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Brockton wants action on casino plans

Region may lose out, mayor says

City officials in Brockton say they want the state Gaming Commission to move quickly to evaluate competing resort casino proposals in Brockton, New Bedford, and Somerset, and to award a license without further delay.

In a letter to the commission on Tuesday, Brockton Mayor Bill Carpenter expressed “serious concern” that a license in Southeastern Massachusetts “may not be awarded at all.” Though the commission has not said it plans to abandon the license, some members have raised questions about the viability of a casino in that region.

“We cannot be stuck in limbo, waiting indefinitely while the Gaming Commission decides on a path forward,” Carpenter wrote.

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The commission has already awarded resort casino licenses for the Western Massachusetts and Greater Boston regions, but has long delayed action in Southeastern Massachusetts in large part because of uncertainty about the fate of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe’s casino proposal in Taunton.

As an Indian tribe, the Mashpee do not need a state license. It does need the approval of the US Bureau of Indian Affairs to take land into trust for a casino in the middle of the Southeastern Massachusetts region. But when and whether that will happen has been a matter of speculation for years, and the federal agency has offered little insight into its process.

The proposal for Brockton is the only one of three currently under consideration to have met earlier Gaming Commission deadlines for submitting applications.

On March 19, the commission voted, 3-to-2, to grant a third extension in its deadlines to allow the proposals in New Bedford and Somerset stay alive.

Before voting against the extension, commission members Gayle Cameron and Enrique Zuniga said further marketing research may be appropriate before the commission plunges ahead with the selection of a casino for Southeastern Massachusetts.

“I think it’s time for us to do a new market analysis,” Cameron said. “So much has changed.”

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Cameron said a casino in Southeastern Massachusetts would possibly face competition not only from a tribal casino but also from expanded gambling venues in nearby Rhode Island and Connecticut. She said those factors present “great risk” to a Southeastern Massachusetts casino.

Zuniga said the perception of “this added element of risk” in Southeastern Massachusetts may be one reason the New Bedford proposal has yet to lock up investors.

“It’s the most challenging region because it is less populated and has less market potential,” he said.

Discussion of Mashpee tribe’s status and the possibility of doing a market analysis are on the commission agenda Thursday.

Carpenter said in an interview that discussion by commission members of a marketing study “sounds to us like they are creating a case for stopping the awarding of a casino license” in Southeastern Massachusetts.

Carpenter said Mass Gaming & Entertainment, the developer proposing a $650 million casino in Brockton, is prepared to meet the commission’s May 26 deadline for completing all phases of the application process, including a local referendum for voters to decide whether to accept a casino in the city.

He said the referendum is scheduled May 12 in Brockton.

“A casino in Brockton would be a game-changer” by creating 1,500 new permanent jobs, Carpenter said. “Our message to the commission is: Don’t take the bat out of our hands before we get up to bat.”

KG Urban, the developer proposing a $650 million casino on the New Bedford waterfront, reached a host community agreement on March 19 with Mayor Jon Mitchell. Such agreements are meant to define compensation for communities where casinos are located for any inconveniences caused by the operation of the gaming facility.

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As of March 19, KG Urban was trying to secure investors for the project.

“My focus right now is to support KG Urban in its efforts,” Mitchell said in statement. “There is a clear rationale for awarding a license to New Bedford as a unique location outside of Greater Boston that will use the facility to help accelerate an already well- defined local economic development strategy.”

The third application, Crossroads Massachusetts, is proposing a casino on a large plot of town-owned land in Somerset. As of March 19, no host community agreement had been reached.

MGM Resorts, awarded the casino license for Western Massachusetts, broke ground last month on a $800 million casino in downtown Springfield. Wynn Resorts received the Greater Boston license and is in the planning stages of a $1.75 billion casino on the waterfront in Everett.

Plainridge Park Casino, which features slot machines but no table games and no hotel, is set to open June 24 in Plainville.

Sean P. Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.