Hopkinton is formally asking the secretary of state’s office to step in after local officials say repeated attempts to get copies of casino applications filed with the state Gaming Commission have been “stonewalled” for more than two months.
“These are supposed to be public records, and it’s now been since January that we haven’t gotten them,” said Benjamin Palleiko, chairman of the Hopkinton Board of Selectman. “It’s just wrong.”
Last Monday, the town counsel, J. Raymond Miyares, sent a letter to Secretary of State William F. Galvin’s office asking that a formal appeal be opened, and that a hearing be conducted on the Gaming Commission’s failure to make the applications public since the first request on Jan. 16.
The first phase of the process that will determine which of the three proposals for the single casino license reserved for Eastern Massachusetts is chosen includes an investigation of the applicants’ “good character, honesty, integrity and financial suitability,” according to the Gaming Commission’s website.
That is exactly the kind of information Palleiko said the town needs in preparing to fight the proposal by Colorado developer David Nunes for an $850 million “destination casino” off Interstate 495 in Milford, near the Hopkinton line.
“We have serious questions about both the character and financial resources of this developer, and they are preventing us from seeing any of this information,” Palleiko said.
Nunes could not be reached for comment last week.
Earlier this month, state Representative Carolyn Dykema, a Democrat from Holliston, called on Nunes to address concerns raised by area residents about his plans.
Although Hopkinton is primarily concerned with the Milford proposal, it has requested copies of all 11 applications for gambling rights in Massachusetts. The 2011 casino law authorizes one slot machine parlor that could be built anywhere in the state, and up to three full casinos, with one in each of three geographical areas.
Brian McNiff, spokesman for Galvin’s office, said he could not comment on specific cases, but said the request from Hopkinton would be assigned to a staff member for review. He said he had “no idea” how long the process would last.
Holliston’s Board of Selectmen chairman, Jay Marsden, said his town also sent a formal request for similar information to the commission about three weeks ago. He said the town received a letter in response, but not the information sought.
Marsden said he is particularly interested in finding out exactly when Foxwoods Resort Casino got involved in the Milford proposal. The Connecticut operation’s partnership with Nunes was made public in February, after the Jan. 15 application deadline.
“What’s frustrating is that when this all got started we were told that in Massachusetts we can do things differently, we can do things the right way.” said Marsden. “Well if that’s the case, where’s the transparency we were promised?”
Elaine Driscoll, spokeswoman for the Gaming Commission, said in an e-mail that the agency is working “very hard” to get the 21,000 pages of documents prepared for release.
Commission officials “share Hopkinton’s and Holliston’s desire to swiftly provide access to the Phase 1 applications. We look forward to providing them with that information as soon as we can feasibly do so,” she wrote.
In addition, she wrote, a blog recently posted on her agency’s website explains the process, and provides context “as to the magnitude of information currently being reviewed and prepared for release by Massachusetts State Troopers assigned to the Gaming Commission.”
A timeline provided by Hopkinton shows it first requested the applications by telephone on Jan. 16, when the town’s inquiry was not returned.
On Jan. 28, the town’s timeline shows a commission representative indicated the applications would be available “in two weeks.” They were not.
The town then went to Galvin’s office, and was again told the applications would be provided in two weeks, and again they were not.
On March 22, according to the timeline, the town’s lawyer was told that “applicants would have 10 days to make confidentiality requests for further exemptions from public records disclosures.” And, the commission said, it would then have to review these requests before releasing the information, pushing the release back another two months.
Applicants are allowed to label information that might give a competing applicant an edge as “exempt from release,” and the commission would then review the requests and decide whether to redact the information from the copies made public.
“It’s completely skewed toward the developers, they’re being given another cut at the apple,” Palleiko said. “It’s bad public policy. They are throwing towns into the deep end and saying, ‘Go deal with these billionaires on your own.’ ”
Dykema said she is hearing a lot of frustration from people in Hopkinton and Holliston about the lack of information being made available about the Milford proposal.
“There is a fixed time frame,” she said. “Every day that goes by is one less day available to study the impact of this proposal.”
Dykema said she has asked a representative from the Gaming Commission to conduct a community forum in the Milford area at which residents can get procedural questions answered. She said a date is being worked out with the commission.
“One of my concerns is that we don’t have accurate information,” she said.
The Milford proposal is competing against a proposal from Caesars Entertainment for Suffolk Downs in East Boston, and an application from Las Vegas casino owner Steve Wynn for industrial land in East Boston.Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.