Plainville celebrating, Raynham somber after slots decision
Last week’s decision on the state’s lone license for a slot-machine parlor brought joy to Plainville, but disappointment to Raynham.
In Plainville, a construction and design team arrived on Monday morning, and by Friday, just seven days after winning the coveted slots license, plans for an official groundbreaking on the $225 million casino project at Plainridge Racecourse should be in place, according to Penn National Gaming Inc.’s chief executive, Timothy Wilmott.
“This is a big deal for Penn National,” Wilmott told a group of jubilant Plainridge workers last week.
The new slots parlor will mean millions in annual revenue for the town as well as 1,000 construction jobs and 400 permanent jobs, according to Penn National’s calculations.
The mood was somber 20 miles away in Raynham, where a slots parlor proposal by Raynham Park was unsuccessful. Board of Selectmen chairman Joseph Pacheco said his town should be getting those jobs.
“My reaction was shock, and tremendous disappointment,” he said of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission’s decision. “Those jobs are jobs the people of Raynham wanted, and those are jobs the people of Raynham needed. My hope is that people from here will have a chance to be considered for some of the jobs in Plainville.”
Last Friday was a day that gambling supporters in Plainville had worked for over many years, through optimism and doubt. They were honking car horns driving through town, and whooping it up at the Post Office, Cumberland Farms, and other spots as word spread that Plainridge had won the license.
“It was so awesome,” said Laurie Cook, who lives in Plainville and was driving to work at Plainridge when she heard the news. “There was so much hard work, going in to the State House, holding signs through all the ups and downs, and now this day is here. I’m just letting out a really, really long exhale.”
Within minutes of officially securing the license from the state commission, Pennsylvania-based Penn National had already faxed a completed, signed application for a foundation permit to Town Hall, according to Town Administrator Joseph Fernandes.
“They could get started this afternoon,” Fernandes said last Friday, laughing.
The town’s deal with Penn National will give Plainville $4.5 million during the first five years of the slots parlor’s operation, with a slight dip in years six through 10, and then a guaranteed $3.3 million annually.
In addition, Wilmott told the group last week, there will be up to 1,000 local jobs created during the approximately yearlong construction, and another 400 full-time positions to be filled once the new gambling and restaurant complex opens next spring.
In Raynham, meanwhile, Pacheco said for the past several years the town’s focus has been on getting expanded gambling approved at Raynham Park to add needed financial resources for the operation, which was hurt when dog racing was banned in the state. Patrons can now gamble only on races simulcast from other states.
Raynham Park owner George Carney took the decision in stride, and said he has no plans to close the simulcast business.
Reflecting on the Gaming Commission’s decision from his downstairs office at Raynham Park, Carney blamed only himself and his partner, Greenwood Racing, owner of Parx Casino outside of Philadelphia, for not submitting a compelling enough application.
The Raynham proposal was apparently never in the running. The five-member commission’s final decision was between Plainridge and a proposed facility in Leominster, with Plainridge winning on a 3-to-2 vote.
Carney said he needs to take a week or so to regroup, take a look at what’s working at Raynham Park and what’s not, and start to make plans for the future.
“There’s always something coming down the road,” the 85-year-old Carney said. “If we didn’t make it onto this train, we’ll make it onto the next one.”
Pacheco said the Raynham Park property is zoned for industrial use, but the town is ready to sit down with Carney and his family to discuss various alternatives for the site.
“My main goal is to create jobs for this community,” he said. “We’ll look at all the options, and we have to have those discussions with the state as well. That’s one of the prime development sites in the state.”
Pacheco said tax incentives, zoning changes, and other options will be considered to try to move forward with a viable plan to develop the property.
Last Friday, hours after the official announcement that Plainville had won the slots parlor sweepstakes, employees at Raynham Park said they had faith in Carney’s ability to keep things going.
Nancy Mansulla, a receptionist who said she has “done a little bit of everything” at Raynham Park for the past 44 years, said there was lots of disappointment among employees, who were surprised by the commission’s decision.
“Of course it’s disappointing, but what can you say,” she said. “Mr. Carney said we’ll be fine, so we’ll move on.”
That would not have been the case at Plainridge, where employees were told that if Penn was not awarded the slots parlor license, the struggling business would have closed within 30 to 60 days.
Instead, “key management personnel” for the Plainridge casino are expected to be hired in the second half of this year, and all employment opportunities will be posted around that time as well, according to Jeff Morris, a Penn National Gaming spokesman.
The track’s closing would have meant the end of harness horse racing in the state, affecting not only the horsemen, grooms, and trainers who work at the stables at Plainridge, but also horse farmers across the state, veterinarians, and others who provide services for the industry.
For those who work directly with the horses at Plainridge, the decision allows them to plan for their future in Massachusetts after living for the past several years with the uncertainty of not knowing whether they would have to move out of state.
“I still can’t believe it,” said Joe Therrien, a horse trainer, driver, and blacksmith.
Therrien and his wife Judy grew up in the area, and want to raise their 8-month-old daughter Emily here, among family and friends.
“I used to be in tears thinking about moving,” Judy Therrien said. “But this is what my husband does, and there would have been no alternative. I’m just so happy.”