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    Foxwoods seeking a casino in Fall River

    Wants to build $750m complex

    FALL RIVER — Foxwoods Resort Casino, a prominent name in New England gambling, has a plan to spend $750 million on a casino and entertainment resort somewhere in Fall River.

    What it needs now is a site to spend it on.

    After weeks of quiet talks with Mayor Will Flanagan, the Connecticut gambling giant confirmed at a press conference Tuesday that it will aggressively pursue the last available Massachusetts casino license, launching the effort just two months after voters in Milford rejected a proposal by Foxwoods and its partners for a suburban casino off Interstate 495.


    The next step, Flanagan said, is to identify land for the project. The mayor used Tuesday’s press conference like a real estate want ad, asking the owners of large parcels in the city to consider offering them for sale for a casino.

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    The mayor said he “would be very pleased to see a waterfront site,” but that Foxwoods will consider other sites as well. The tribally owned gambling company is looking for 30 to 70 acres in Fall River. The best sites will be in highly visible locations and have easy access to major roads.

    “We’re optimistic we’re going to be able to get land under option,” Flanagan said. He expects the land search to take about 30 days. He declined to comment about potential sites already under consideration.

    Members of the partnership behind the new Foxwoods plan have said they learned a lot from their loss in Milford, and from the failure of other suburban casino proposals last year.

    “God works in mysterious ways, and He directed us here,” said Scott Butera, Foxwoods’ chief executive.


    In choosing economically distressed Fall River, Foxwoods should find a political climate more receptive than the suburbs, where voters have been unmoved by the resort casino industry’s promise to create jobs, tourism, and tax revenue.

    Fall River’s jobless rate was more than 12 percent in December, according to unadjusted state labor figures, far above the statewide average of 7 percent.

    Voters in just three Massachusetts communities, all urban, approved resort-style casinos in 2013: Revere, Everett, and Springfield. In each case, the casino developers began their successful public campaigns with enthusiastic support from a mayor eager to attract jobs and revenue.

    Flanagan strongly endorsed the Foxwoods plans Tuesday, saying the project would create 3,000 to 5,000 permanent jobs. Fall River can also expect the casino to pay millions in taxes, the specific amount to be negotiated in a host agreement between Flanagan and casino executives.

    The mayor said the city’s casino windfall should be spent improving education, public safety, and public infrastructure.


    Councilor Pat Casey, a lifelong city resident who has lived the past 71 years in the Fall River home where she was born, said she supports the project because “we need to give people the opportunity to work.”

    Clyde Barrow, a casino specialist and a professor at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, said Fall River voters have consistently supported casinos in nonbinding votes and in public opinion surveys.

    “Assuming they get a site and can negotiate a host agreement, I have no doubt a casino proposal would pass in Fall River,” Barrow said.

    Foxwoods had only rough details Tuesday of what the resort would include. Butera said he likes a campus-like design like the one the company pitched in Milford.

    Flanagan said Foxwoods imagines a resort with about 20 restaurants, a hotel, convention and entertainment space, shops, a spa, and a gambling floor.

    With Foxwoods returning to the Massachusetts market, so is the company’s development partner, David Nunes, a Bolton native who for years was the face of the Milford casino venture. After trying for about 15 years to develop a casino in Massachusetts, “I’m not about to quit,” Nunes said.

    Interest from Foxwoods could renew attention on the overlooked resort casino license created for Southeastern Massachusetts, Barrow said.

    The licensing process in the Western and Greater Boston regions is just months away from finishing, but language in the 2011 state casino law delayed bidding in the southeast to allow a federally recognized tribe, expected to be the Mashpee Wampanoag, time to make progress on a casino.

    Tribal casinos are approved under a federal process separate from the state’s.

    The Mashpee want to build a casino in Taunton. The tribe cannot begin until the US Department of the Interior takes the proposed casino site into federal trust on behalf of the Mashpee. The problem for the Mashpee is that the federal government’s legal authority to create trust land for many tribes is in question, due to a 2009 US Supreme Court decision.

    Flanagan said the Mashpee face “insurmountable hurdles” to getting trust land.

    The tribe, through a spokesperson, declined to respond.

    Last April, the gambling commission lifted the freeze on commercial casino applications in the southeast. Just one company, KG Urban, filed the $400,000 fee by last September’s deadline for new applicants to enter the contest. KG wants to build a casino in New Bedford.

    Mark Arsenault can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @bostonglobemark.