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Two cities, two pitches, but only one casino

New Bedford, Brockton cite unemployment, strong local support for $650m resort plans

Both cities boast grand histories as economic powerhouses of national stature: Brockton for shoe-manufacturing in the early 20th century and New Bedford for whaling in the 19th century. More recently, both cities have been better known for drooping employment and fading downtowns.

And leaders of Brockton and New Bedford now share a vision for a promising path to economic revitalization: a $650 million resort casino.

The mayors and city councils of both cities are unanimous in their support for the surge of private investment casinos would bring. And leaders in both cities are in step with voters: Brockton and New Bedford handed a resounding “no” to the statewide referendum last November that would have repealed the 2011 law that allows casinos.


But both cities cannot get one. Under the law, only one license is available in Southeastern Massachusetts. The five-member Gaming Commission must pick one.

Former governor Deval Patrick viewed casinos as an antidote to kind of economic blight that follows when whole industries collapse or move out, as happened in Brockton and New Bedford.

As part of their pitch, representatives of both cities have said they want a casino because they need it more. “We still have one of the highest unemployment rates in Massachusetts,” Mayor Jon Mitchell of New Bedford told the Gaming Commission.

Countered Jack Yunits, Brockton’s former mayor: “Our employment history in Brockton, our troubles in Brockton are not better.”

There are significant differences in the two proposals. Brockton’s drive for a casino is headed locally by George Carney, 86, for decades a fixture in the state’s racing and wagering industries. He owns Raynham Park, a former dog-racing track that now simulcasts horse- and dog-racing with video feeds from other tracks around the country. Another property is the Brockton Fairgrounds, where thoroughbred horses once raced every summer, and where Carney plans to build his casino.


A rendering of Brockton’s proposed casino on a fairgrounds site.Mass Gaming & Entertainment

He formed Mass Gaming & Entertainment in partnership with Rush Street Gaming, which operates four casinos in the Midwest and Canada, and which has pockets deep enough to allow it to fully fund the project.

Mass Gaming & Entertainment is the only prospective casino operator in Southeastern Massachusetts that filed its application, including proof that it had secured financing, by the original January deadline set by the Gaming Commission. The commission has extended that deadline twice at the request of its New Bedford rival, KG Urban, which now has until May 4. (A third group has proposed a casino in Somerset, but it has yet to publicize an agreement with the town government, which is a requirement for submitting a bid.)

KG Urban has an agreement for its casino to be operated by Foxwoods Resorts, which pioneered Las Vegas-styled gambling in New England in the early 1990s with its facility on the Mashantucket Pequot reservation in Ledyard, Conn. Foxwoods, and the other Connecticut casino, Mohegan Sun, have faced increasing competition, in New York and Rhode Island, and view the fledging casinos of Massachusetts as a serious threat.

One significant difference between Brockton and New Bedford is the readiness of the respective sites. Construction of a casino on the Brockton Fairgrounds could start anytime, without delay or significant additional costs to the developer.

The waterfront site in New Bedford where the casino would be built requires an environmental cleanup that KG Urban says could cost as much as $50 million. It pledges to cover that cost.


New Bedford leaders say the end result will justify the extra cost. A casino will attract people not only to the hundreds of slot machines and roulette tables, they say, but also to the restaurants and other businesses along the waterfront of one of the country’s most storied harbors.

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