BROCKTON — Voters on Tuesday narrowly approved a proposal to build a $650 million resort casino on the Brockton Fairgrounds, which clears the way for its developers to compete for the state’s third and final casino license.
A total of 7,163 “yes” votes to 7,020 “no” votes gave the casino enough for the victory. The turnout was 32.2 percent of the city’s 44,010 registered voters; the margin of victory of 143 votes represented just 1 percent of votes cast.
Brockton elections director John McGarry said the vote tally would be rechecked on Wednesday.
A demand for a recount is very unlikely because the margin was too wide to realistically expect a different result, said Thomas McDonnell, a leader of the casino opposition.
“But it was a major moral victory, and I hope it sends a message to the state Gaming Commission that support for a casino here is not wholehearted.”
Casino supporters had argued that Brockton sorely needs the infusion of 1,500 jobs promised by the casino and hotel development. They also touted the developer’s pledge to pay the city $10 million annually to support education, police, fire, and other municipal services, if a casino is built.
“Brockton desperately needs jobs and people voted their pocketbook,” said George Carney, one of the main developers of the casino proposal. “Maybe a casino isn’t a perfect development for everyone, but it will certainly put people to work.”
Opponents argued a casino would worsen traffic on already-congested Route 123, and would be located too close to the high school, possibly tempting minors into the facility.
Opponents also said casinos historically drain dollars from the pockets of poor and lower-middle-class people who can least afford such losses.
The proponents, backed by the national gambling firm Rush Street Gaming, spent more than $1 million in a highly organized, professionally directed campaign, while opponents spent a few thousand dollars while relying on church and other community groups to spread their message.
Even so, the margin of victory was much narrower than the overwhelming support Brockton voters showed for casinos in Massachusetts last November, when more than 67 percent of Brockton voters rejected a ballot question which, if it had passed, would have repealed the state’s casino law.
Carney, 86, has for decades been 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 from other tracks around the country.
Carney also owns the Brockton Fairgrounds, where thoroughbred horses once raced every summer.
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 plans a sprawling complex that hints at the style of a traditional New England college campus with walls of red brick and jutting turrets. The casino would include 2,000 slot machines and 100 blackjack and roulette table games. A seven-story hotel would include 225 rooms and a conference center.
The casino, however, is still a long way from reality.
New Bedford is considered to be Brockton’s main competitor for the regional casino license. Like Brockton’s proposal, the one in New Bedford boasts well-financed backers with long experience running casinos. Like Brockton, New Bedford also faces stubbornly high unemployment.
But the New Bedford proposal differs from Brockton’s in its location and ambition. Brockton’s casino would be built more than a mile from the city’s faded downtown on a 45-acre race grounds that has remained undeveloped for decades and requires no environmental cleanup.
New Bedford’s casino would sit on the waterfront, and would include glass walls providing patrons “180-degree views of the harbor,” according to its developer.
The New Bedford development is envisioned by Mayor Jon Mitchell as the kind of economic boost he expects will seep directly into the nearby downtown area. The developer there has committed to spending up to $50 million for an environmental cleanup.
A referendum in New Bedford is set for June 23.
A third proposal for a casino in the region lags far behind the others. The backers of that proposal say they want to build a casino on a 100-acre town-owned site in Somerset near Interstate 195.