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Advocates, opponents meet in Brockton over casino

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A casino opponent expressed her view during Massachusetts Gaming Commission hearing on whether ot allow a casino to be built in Brockton.
A casino opponent expressed her view during Massachusetts Gaming Commission hearing on whether ot allow a casino to be built in Brockton.(The Boston Globe)

BROCKTON — A proposal to build a $675 million casino in Brockton drew several hundred people to an emotional public hearing here Tuesday, which was marked by strongly held views on both sides of the debate.

"It is time to start generating revenue for Brockton," Mayor Bill Carpenter said to loud cheers. "It is desperately needed in this city, which has been down for the count for a long time."

About 85 percent of the city's students are at or below the poverty level, Carpenter told a packed conference center at Massasoit Community College. The city's deficit stands at $10 million.

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"The vast majority of casino jobs will go to Brockton families," Carpenter said. "Think about the improved standard of living that will come with those jobs — $60 million a year in payroll. We need to prime the pump of Brockton's economy."

But Richard Reid, a Baptist church pastor and spokesman for the casino opposition group Stand Up for Brockton, said the city's problems require more lasting solutions.

"The harsh reality is that Brockton is going through hard times, but quick fixes never last and are often harmful to a community," he said.

Casinos "target the wallets of the low-income, senior citizens, minorities — those who can least afford it," he added.

Dozens of supporters dressed in bright yellow shirts touting the benefits of a casino, while across the room opponents wore "No Casino" lapel stickers. At times, the hearing became raucous, with loud cheers and boos and shouts from the standing-room-only crowd.

The hearing was scheduled to help the state Gaming Commission decide whether to grant a license to Mass Gaming & Entertainment, a partnership of Chicago-based developer Neil Bluhm and local businessman George Carney. The group wants to build a casino on the site of the Brockton Fairgrounds off Route 123.

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The commission is required to consider the level of local support for a casino. Last May, voters approved the project by a margin of just 143 votes.

The casino complex would include 92,000 square feet of casino space, including 2,100 slot machines and 124 tables, and a 250-room hotel.

The decision on the Brockton proposal is complicated by the ambitions of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, which under the 2011 state casino law received preference for the casino license reserved for Southeastern Massachusetts.

But the Gaming Commission's commitment to the Mashpee wavered last year, when it appeared the tribe faced an indefinite delay in having land it owned in Taunton approved for a casino site.

The commission cited the tribe's legal situation when it opened the award of a casino license to competitive bidding from commercial casino operators.

Bluhm submitted the only bid. But as the gambling commission moved ahead with its review of his plans, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs approved reservation status for the Taunton land, clearing the way for a casino there.

That hasn't deterred Mass Gaming & Entertainment from pursuing a license. In previous appearances before the commission, Bluhm said his casino could open by 2018, making it the state's first resort casino.

The casino would create 1,800 permanent jobs and $12 million in annual payments to the city, the group says.

But the Mashpee say their casino would be better for the state, pointing to an agreement it reached with former governor Deval Patrick that gave the tribe exclusive rights to operate a casino in Southeastern Massachusetts for a share of its profits. On Tuesday, the commission announced it will hold a public hearing March 15 in Mashpee to hear from tribal members on their proposal.

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In a letter to the gambling commission Monday, lawyers for the tribe said the commission lacked the authority to award a license for a Brockton casino. Licensing a Brockton casino, they argued, would push the number of resort casinos in the state to four, one more than envisioned by the state law.


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