Palmer Casino Supporters Urge Mohegan Sun To Pledge New Development

Dec 17, 2013

Mohegan Sun, which worked for five years on a casino project in rural Palmer, Massachusetts only to see it come up 94 votes short on Election Day, has now shifted its focus to greater Boston.  The move leaves Palmer casino supporters concerned about the future.

An artist's rendering of Mohegan Sun's proposed casino at Suffolk Downs in Revere, MA

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has given Mohegan Sun the green light to partner with Suffolk Downs in a bid to build a resort casino in Revere. In one of several key decisions gaming industry regulators have made in recent days the commission agreed to waive a requirement that a voter referendum take place prior to the year-end deadline for submitting a final license application.

Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo is negotiating a host community agreement with Mohegan Sun. It must be approved by the city council and then put before the city’s voters. The referendum likely will take place in late February or early March.  Rizzo told New England Cable News he looks for the casino to create a revenue stream and provide jobs for the people of his city.

" Safe to say it is going to be different than our last host community agreement because now all of the project is in Revere."

Casino activists in Palmer had long hoped for millions of dollars in revenue and thousands of jobs for their town.  In the aftermath of the narrow defeat of the Palmer casino project—confirmed by a recount—there has been a lot of finger-pointing directed at Mohegan Sun.

Jennifer Baruffaldi, who has worked to bring a casino to Palmer since the late 1990s, complains that it took Mohegan Sun  two years to reach a development agreement in Palmer and just days to strike a bargain with Suffolk Downs.

"I do question Mohegan Sun as to when they started negotiations with Suffolk Downs. If it was before November 5th that would be a concern to me."

Mohegan Sun denies it was talking with other parties before the November 5th vote in Palmer, but a week before the November 26th   recount Mohegan Sun opted out of the exclusive casino development agreement for the 152 acres of wooded hillside it continues to lease.

In a statement, the Connecticut-based gaming company said it will pursue non-gaming development on the property, but spokespeople have declined to provide any specifics.

" They should have something in writing that that is what their intentions are otherwise it seems to me they are blocking the land for development," said Baruffaldi.

Baruffaldi, other casino activists and Palmer Town Councilor Paul Burns have written several emails and letters to Mohegan Sun asking for a public commitment to make a significant investment in Palmer.

" It is vitally important that we development something on that land," said Burns.

The $1 billion resort casino project Mohegan Sun proposed in Palmer included a water-theme park and a shopping mall.

" Why not move forward with the retail part of the project, or the water park," said Burns.

If  Mohegan Sun can win the voter referendum in Revere next year it would likely compete with Wynn Resorts for the lone casino license in eastern Massachusetts.  Wynn’s $1.3 billion casino  project was endorsed overwhelmingly last June by voters in Everett . 

Investigators for the gaming commission reported Monday that nothing was found in an exhaustive background check to disqualify Wynn from bidding for a casino license in Massachusetts. Mohegan Sun previously passed its background check.

MGM Resorts is awaiting a final determination of suitability from the five-member gaming commission to become the lone bidder for the casino license in the western region.  MGM is proposing an $800 million casino in downtown Springfield.