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Tewksbury

Tewsksbury considers allowing $200m slots parlor

A $200 million slots parlor proposed for a 30-acre site off Route 133 could generate $3 million annually in real estate taxes, fees, and other payments to the town of Tewksbury as part of an agreement negotiated with Penn National Gaming.

“Depending on the value of the development, it could generate $5 million for us,” said Town Manager Richard Montuori. “Where else could we get that in one year?”

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Residents will soon decide if the development — 1,250 slot machines, restaurants, and other entertainment venues — is a good deal for this town of nearly 29,000.

A Special Town Meeting will be held Aug. 20 to consider a zoning change to allow an entertainment use in an area now zoned for business. The development is proposed for 30 acres of land at the Ames Pond Corporate Center, located near the interchange of Route 133 and Interstate 495 on the Andover line.

The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the high school gymnasium. A two-thirds majority vote is required for a zoning change. If new zoning is approved, a special election would be held on Sept. 21 for voters to decide if a slots parlor should be located in town.

“The residents are ultimately going to decide it,” said Scott Wilson, chairman of the Board of Selectmen. “I am glad we have this opportunity. The revenue [potential] could be a real difference maker for the town.”

The state’s casino law requires a local referendum to be passed and a host community agreement negotiated between the community and a casino operator before an application for a gaming license can go forward.

‘We want to hear from people, because we want something that fits the community.’

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Tewksbury selectmen voted unanimously, 5 to 0, on July 19 to approve a host agreement with Penn National Gaming. Key provisions include a $1 million annual payment, which would increase by 2.5 percent after five years, plus a $120,000 annual fee for capital improvements.

Penn National would be required to make a “good faith” effort to hire Tewksbury residents, contractors, and vendors for 1,000 temporary construction jobs and 500 permanent jobs estimated to be created by the development.

The town has the right to approve consultants hired by Penn National to study traffic, water/sewer, and other impacts of the development, the agreement states.

“It was important for us to be able to approve who they hire to do the studies, and the scope of work that it will include,” Montuori said.

Penn National Gaming, based in Wyomissing, Pa., operates 36 casinos and gaming facilities across the country, including the Hollywood Casino Hotel & Raceway in Bangor.

In Massachusetts, Penn National is competing against proposals in Leominster, Millbury, Plainville, and Raynham for the state’s one license to operate a slots facility. Final applications are due by Oct. 4, and the state’s Gaming Commission could award the license by the end of this year.

Unlike the grand resort casinos proposed for Everett and at Suffolk Downs on the Revere/East Boston line, a slots parlor would be licensed only to have up to 1,250 gaming machines, with no game tables, such as blackjack or poker.

With the clock ticking on the application deadline, Penn National plans an aggressive campaign to win local support. The company has opened an office on Main Street, will launch an online “vote yes” site, and plans one-on-one meetings with local residents and organizations.

“I’m going to hit the ground running,” said Jeff Morris, director of public affairs at Penn National, who is heading the Tewksbury outreach. “We will be as transparent as possible about our plans. We will have an active ‘vote yes’ campaign.’ ”

The proposed site is located on 30 acres of wooded land at 300 Ames Pond Drive. Penn National has an option to buy the land, now owned by Leggat McCall Properties of Boston, if the company succeeds in securing the slots license, Morris said.

Penn National plans to release drawings and renderings of the development by next week, Morris said. The company operates a Hollywood-themed casino brand in 16 locations, including Bangor.

“We’re still working through what our brand will be here,” Morris said. “We want to hear from people, because we want something that fits the community. We’re not trying to bring Las Vegas here.”

Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMc-
Cabe.
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