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Milford

Casino inspires late rush to register

An artist’s rendering of the redesigned Foxwoods casino complex proposed for Milford.

Foxwoods Massachusetts

An artist’s rendering of the redesigned Foxwoods casino complex proposed for Milford.

Leading up to last week's deadline, hundreds of Milford residents had registered to vote in time to cast a ballot in the Nov. 19 referendum on plans for a $1 billion resort casino next to Interstate 495.

Town Clerk Amy Hennessy Neves said the stream of residents at her office windows was steady, reminding her of a presidential election when upwards of 70 percent of the town’s voters cast ballots. Some were registering to vote for the first time, while others transferred their registration from another community.

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“It’s a very important election coming up. If people want a direct say in whether or not this comes to Milford, this is their opportunity,” she said. “It’s a very hot topic in town.”

One of those new Milford voters is Trisha LaMorte, who moved to town in June with her husband and teenage daughter.

Once she had changed her voter registration from Newton to Milford, LaMorte didn’t hesitate for a second before checking NO on her absentee ballot and turning it right back in to Assistant Town Clerk Jan Carlin.

“We knew it was a possibility when we bought our house; we just hoped it wouldn’t go through,” she said.

LaMorte said when she sees a sign supporting the Foxwoods casino proposal, she wonders what the person behind the sign could be thinking. “Long-term, I don’t see anything good coming from it,” she said.

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Both supporters and opponents of the casino have been going door to door, presenting their case directly to residents.

Foxwoods spokesman Stephen Oaks said casino proponents have also been passing out absentee ballots and voter-registration cards, hoping to bolster the turnout.

Michael Kaplan, a casino supporter with Citizens for Milford’s Future, said registration cards were also available at a rally held by his group to spread the message of what the influx of jobs and a minimum of $25 million in added tax revenue could do for the town.

“If the casino were proposed for downtown, I could see all kinds of problems,” Kaplan said. But because of the site’s location, on 187 acres next to Interstate 495 and Route 16 and near the Holliston line, he said, it would have less impact on the community’s daily life.

“This is not going to be another Atlantic City,” he said. “Nobody would want that.”

The election will serve as a referendum on the host community agreement negotiated by the Board of Selectmen and Foxwoods Massachusetts. A majority vote supporting the arrangement is required for the project to continue; under the state’s application procedure, a majority against it would stop the project with no chance of being revived.

The host community agreement calls for an initial payment of $32 million and a minimum of $31 million annually in tax revenue, as well as mitigation payments for additional police officers, firefighters, Town Hall personnel, and school district expenses.

If voters approve the agreement, Foxwoods would still need to gain Special Town Meeting’s OK for rezoning the property, in a session planned for Dec. 9 .

If the developer has the community’s support and passes the Massachusetts Gaming Commission’s background checks, Foxwoods would be competing against proposals in Everett and East Boston for the lone resort casino license to be awarded in Greater Boston. The state commission is expected to make its decision in the spring.

The stakes are high, and Milford voters are taking notice.

Pond Street residents Lida and Hipolito Maqui are ready to vote against the casino proposal.

“Like it or not, we are going to have problems when this casino comes,” Lida Maqui said.

Even though the couple say they enjoy going to the Foxwoods casino in Connecticut, taking a bus from the Milford Senior Center once a month, they don’t think it would be right for their town.

“It’s already a headache trying to get to Stop & Shop. Imagine the traffic if the casino comes,” she said.

Neves had no exact number of how many new voters had registered by Wednesday’s deadline, but workers in the town clerk’s office estimated that hundreds had come in over the past few weeks.

Not only had the office been busy registering voters, but also answering residents’ questions and double-checking for people wanting to make sure they are on the voting rolls.

“We’ve been inundated,” Carlin said.

Two bins were filled with completed absentee ballots, and a third bin was nearly full as of Wednesday afternoon. The absentee ballots, which can be mailed to voters or picked up at the town clerk’s office, must be received at the town clerk’s office by 8 p.m., when the polls close, on election day.

Once the election is over, they will be counted along with the ballots cast that day. Neves said the town should have results shortly after polls close.

The town’s three polling locations — the Milford Senior Center at 60 North Bow St., the Italian American War Veterans post at 4 Hayward Field, and the Portuguese Club at 119 Prospect St. — will open at 7 a.m. on Nov. 19.

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com.

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