Firms battle for slot license
Three companies present their case for single parlor
Gambling companies opened the competition for the state’s sole slot machine parlor license Monday with glitzy renderings and plenty of big promises, in dueling presentations before the state gambling commission.
The 90-minute presentations, at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, by Cordish Cos., Penn National Gaming, and Raynham Park marked the end of an 18-month application period and the beginning of the competition for the first Massachusetts casino license.
The companies tried to impress with videos of other properties they have developed, soaring music, testimonials, and pictures of good-looking people enjoying a good time at a casino. Behind the flash of the presentations were revenue projections, maps, and traffic plans.
It will be up to the five-member commission to weigh the details and the promises and award the slots license, as soon as December or early January.
Each of the three finalists gave credible presentations, offering different strengths. Each has passed state background checks and survived a referendum in its host community.
Cordish Cos. of Baltimore has proposed a $204 million slots parlor near the intersection of Route 117 and Interstate 190 in the north-central city of Leominster, the hometown of Johnny Appleseed. It is about an hour from Boston, just off Route 2, the main east-west highway in the northern part of the state.
The company pushed hard on its proposed location, saying its more remote site would not cannibalize business from the three resort casinos the commission also plans to license.
“A state goes into the gaming business for a couple reasons,” said company chairman David Cordish. “One of the primary, primary reasons is to make money.”
Cordish maintained that his Leominster location would make more than his competitors, both of which would compete with the Twin River casino in Lincoln, R.I., and a proposed Mashpee Wampanoag tribal casino in Taunton.
The slot parlor, by law, will pay the state 49 percent of its gambling revenue in taxes.
Cordish’s presentation also focused on the company’s family ownership, in its fourth generation, and its commitment to a $1 million to $1.5 million annual grant to a University of Massachusetts business program that supports emerging medical technology companies.
Penn National Gaming, the second presenter, has proposed a $225 million project at Plainridge Racecourse, which would be renamed Plainridge Park Casino, a departure from the company’s Hollywood casino brand name.
Penn’s argument to the commission leaned heavily on saving harness racing in Massachusetts. Plainridge is the state’s only active harness track, and the sport probably will not survive at Plainridge if Penn does not win the license.
“Horse racing is in our DNA,” said Tim Wilmott, the company’s chief operating officer. If Penn wins the license, the company would preserve racing-related jobs at Plainridge, as well as the livelihood of horse farmers and others connected to the industry, he said.
Like Cordish, Penn bragged about its location, but with a different argument. Penn’s proposed site, at the junction of Route 1 and Interstate 495 in Plainville, about 5 miles south of Gillette Stadium, is best positioned to intercept potential customers heading to Connecticut tribal casinos or to Twin River, the company said.
“We view our location as the last line of defense,” said Jay Snowden, Penn senior vice president of operations.
The firm announced that former New England Patriots quarterback Doug Flutie would open a sports pub at Plainridge, at which Flutie and the Heisman Trophy he won at Boston College would make regular appearances.
Penn is the second applicant to pitch a slots parlor at Plainridge. The original applicant, Ourway Realty, was disqualified from the bidding after state investigators discovered that the track’s former president had taken more then $1 million from the Plainridge money room over several years
The final applicant, Raynham Park and casino partner Greenwood Racing, are planning a $227 million slots facility at the simulcast parlor and former dog racing track in Raynham. Greenwood chief executive Tony Ricci said the company plans to renovate buildings on the site for a temporary slots parlor that could be open just six months after Raynham won the license. Ricci said the quick opening would be “a powerful benefit for the state,” that could open a stream of tax revenue as soon as next July.
The company would construct a new building on the 100-acre property as the permanent home for the 1,250 slot machines permitted at the facility. Part of Raynham’s pitch is that the vast size of the property could accommodate related development in the future.
Raynham Park also offered a sweetener for the harness racing industry. If Raynham wins the license and Plainridge closes, Raynham would modify the thoroughbred track at the Brockton Fairgrounds for harness racing, Ricci said. With the gambling commission’s permission, the company would hold harness racing from August to October, 2014, said Ricci, to “give the industry a soft landing place” and keep the sport alive in Massachusetts.
Like his competitors, Ricci insisted he had the best location. He said putting a slot parlor near a proposed Mashpee casino would benefit Massachusetts by siphoning money from a tribal facility, which may not be required to share much gambling revenue with the state, to a highly taxed commercial development.