The Chicago-based investor who has pledged to spend up to $200 million on a Brockton casino says he may walk away from the deal unless the state Gaming Commission takes swift action on his proposal.
“I’ve got other things to do,” said Neil Bluhm, who along with local partner George Carney is proposing a sprawling casino and hotel complex on the Brockton fairgrounds near Route 123. “Do I want to be here? Yes. I’m not giving an ultimatum, but I’m not going to sit here waiting forever.”
Bluhm said he is concerned that the commission may delay the awarding of a license for the Southeastern Massachusetts region if it decides to wait for a resolution of legal status of a rival casino bid from the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian tribe.
“The Mashpee face a long legal road,” Bluhm said during an interview on Wednesday. “I don’t want to spend the time, effort, or money waiting around.”
The US Bureau of Indian Affairs has indicated that it will soon rule on the Masphee’s application to take 150 acres of land in Taunton into trust, a necessary first step for the tribe to take advantage of its special status as a tribe to open a casino there.
But Bluhm said that land-into-trust decision is virtually assured to be appealed, which could begin a yearslong legal odyssey through the courts, similar to the one involving the Narragansett Indian tribe of Rhode Island that ended with a US Supreme Court ruling against the tribe.
Bluhm said he is not opposed to a tribal casino, but he is opposed to waiting on the sidelines for years to come.
The developer of casinos in Ontario, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Illinois, Bluhm has watched for months as the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has delayed awarding a license for the Southeastern region, one of three resort casino licenses for the state. During that time, a rival proposal for a casino in New Bedford seemed to be coming together, and then collapsed in July.
Mass Gaming & Entertainment, Bluhm’s and Carney’s partnership, is now the lone applicant for the license.
“I’m not saying, ‘Pick our proposal,’ but I am saying, ‘Consider our proposal, see if it qualifies for a license and if it is in the best interest of the Commonwealth, then make a decision, even while the tribe’s case remains unresolved,’” Bluhm said.
But the Gaming Commission is under no legal obligation to award it, and some panel members have explicitly stated that they reserve the right to not issue a license.
At the request of Mass Gaming & Entertainment, the Gaming Commission opened a comment period last week on whether it should make a prompt up-or-down decision on the Brockton proposal. The comment period is open through Sept. 18. (Further information is available on the Gaming Commission website.)
The commission “looks forward to reviewing all feedback,” spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll said on Wednesday.
“Commissioners will soon have a follow-up discussion at an upcoming public meeting,” possibly on Sept. 24, she said.
At last week’s Gaming Commission meeting, Chairman Stephen Crosby questioned whether Mass Gaming & Entertainment was having trouble financing its proposal, as was the case with the proposal for the New Bedford casino.
Bluhm said emphatically that financing is secure for his casino proposal. He said Brockton is a much better site for a casino than New Bedford because it is so much closer to millions of potential customers crowded around Boston.
Bluhm said by awarding the license promptly the state can be assured of tens of millions of dollars annually in tax revenue when the casino opens, perhaps as early as the spring 2018, plus an $85 million licensing fee.
“You got a bird in hand right now, ready to go,” he said.
Sean P. Murphy can be reached at email@example.com.