BROCKTON — State Gaming Commission chairman Stephen Crosby on Wednesday decried the design of a proposed casino in Brockton as a “great disappointment” that would place the $677 million facility “in the middle of a vast parking lot.”
Coming as the panel continued its public deliberations on the Brockton plan, Crosby’s critical remarks appeared to deal a serious blow to its hopes. The commission is expected to vote Thursday on the Brockton casino, which is vying for the state’s third and final resort casino license.
At a public hearing in Brockton, Crosby said the proposal, billed as an economic catalyst for a struggling city, does not do enough to bring the casino into the economic fabric of the city.
In its current design, the casino “is completely isolated from any other operating part of the community, with no links or strategies for broader urban renewal or economic development,” Crosby said.
The company behind the proposal, Mass Gaming & Entertainment, had been largely unresponsive to the commission’s call for a “wow factor” in its development plan.
“I found nothing distinctive in the applicant’s responses,” he said. “The approach of the applicant seemed to be: ‘We will do good things. Just trust us.’”
The commission’s decision comes as the Mashpee Wampanoag has begun construction on a $1 billion casino just 20 miles away on reservation land in Taunton, a project that does not need state authorization.
On Tuesday, a consultant hired by the commission projected that Massachusetts could lose about $42 million a year in tax revenue if both casinos opened. Under an agreement with the state, the tribe will pay 17 percent of its gambling revenue to the state if it has the exclusive right to the Southeastern Massachusetts region. If the tribe must compete with the Brockton casino, it will pay no tax to the state.
After Wednesday’s hearing, Brockton Mayor Bill Carpenter, a longtime casino proponent, said Crosby’s criticism was “unfair and inaccurate.”
“All along, we have said this casino is needed for the hundreds of jobs it will bring to a city that desperately needs jobs. That’s economic development,” he said. “The state has a responsibility to a city that is struggling with high unemployment. We are a majority-minority city where almost 85 percent of our school children qualify for some assistance.”
Mass Gaming & Entertainment, a partnership of Chicago-based developer Neil Bluhm and local businessman George Carney, has also committed $100,000 to study the development of a entertainment district around the casino, Carpenter added.
“Right now we need jobs to lift our hard-working residents into decent-paying jobs and to create better life-opportunities for their children,” he said. “If we miss this opportunity, where is the money going to come from for our schools and for public safety?”
Carpenter said the 60-acre site off Route 123 is “shovel-ready” and predicted that a Brockton casino could open before other planned casinos in Springfield and Everett.
He also predicted that the Mashpee casino “will never be built” because of a federal lawsuit filed against it by Taunton property owners. The lawsuit, which was partially funded by Mass Gaming & Entertainment, contends that the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs was wrong to designate the Taunton property as reservation land.
“Brockton is the sure bet — the state should take it,” he said.
Commission members have long expressed concern that if they reject the Brockton bid and the Taunton casino falters, Southeastern Massachusetts would lose out on the economic benefits of a casino.
Commission member Lloyd Macdonald said he was skeptical that the tribe would prevail in court, although he did not indicate how he would vote.
“I think it’s fair to say the lawsuit at a minimum raises very, very weighty issues,” he said.
Tribal leaders say they are confident they will prevail in court.