Brockton leaders lament missed economic opportunity in casino decision

Photo Courtesy: MGNonline

BOSTON (STATE HOUSE) – Brockton lawmakers were downhearted Thursday after a vote by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission thwarted the city’s hope for economic revitalization through a casino at the Brockton Fairgrounds.

“I’m disappointed in their decision, I know there were some people in favor of it and some people against it in Brockton, but the majority of voters did vote in favor of it,” Sen. Michael Brady said. “It’s going to be a tough financial impact. Brockton is in serious need for new revenue and jobs. This is going to set us back with the potential job growth it would have provided.”

Rep. Gerard Cassidy, who replaced Brady in the House earlier this year, lamented that Brockton won’t see the benefits of the proposed $667 million casino facility.

“It’s just a missed opportunity. I’m a little disappointed about the news and saddened. The economic revitalization at the fairgrounds would have been a big boost for Brockton,” Cassidy, who previously sat on the Brockton City Council, said. “We’ve been on the mat a few times with this whole proposal and we always bounce back.”

Both Brady and Cassidy, however, noted that the casino proposal was not the only economic development project in the works for the City of Champions.

The Gaming Commission on Thursday declined to award a license for a commercial casino in southeastern Massachusetts, where the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has broken ground on a resort casino of its own.

After about two and a half days of discussion and deliberation, the five-person commission chose not to offer a license to Mass Gaming & Entertainment/Rush Street Gaming, the team working with local businessman George Carney to plan a commercial casino at the Brockton Fairgrounds.

“Bottom line, I end up feeling like this does not meet the standards that are required to make the decision,” Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby said just before voting. “I think that I come down on the side that this does not warrant an award.”

Brockton’s mayor, Bill Carpenter, told the News Service that he was having trouble reconciling the positive comments gaming regulators had for the proposed casino project with the vote to stop it from moving forward.

“I’m deeply, deeply disappointed and somewhat surprised,” said Carpenter, who was present for the Gaming Commission’s vote. “I really thought there were a lot of mixed signals as the commissioners explained their vote before they took it, with several acknowledging we had a good developer with a proven track record and a good location.”

The commission voted 4-1 at a meeting held in Brockton to deny MG&E’s application for a commercial casino license. Only Commissioner Lloyd Macdonald, who was appointed to the commission by ardent casino opponent Attorney General Maura Healey, voted to grant the license.

Pointing out a 38 percent decrease in manufacturing in Brockton since 2001, that 46 percent of children in the city are classified as economically disadvantaged, and a high school dropout rate twice that of the state average, Macdonald said he was in favor of the casino for its promise of jobs and opportunity.

“We have a city that desperately needs economic development, workforce development and the infusion of capital in order to be able to serve its citizens, and we have in the form of (MG&E) a private party, not a government entity, that is willing to commit to invest almost $700 million,” he said before the vote was cast. “A no vote means Brockton, we’re sorry, you can’t have it.”

Macdonald said that local officials “have literally begged us — and using that word — begging us to license” the casino. Other commissioners said the decision not to grant a casino license for the struggling City of Champions was a difficult one.

“I have some concerns about the strength of this application, and understanding the shot in the arm Brockton needs, that’s been very clear,” Commissioner Bruce Stebbins said. “But I don’t want to make an award of a license to an application that, in my estimation, is just not up to the level of excellence that I would expect.”

Of some concern in Region C — the commission’s designation for southeastern Massachusetts — was the possibility of an MG&E casino in Brockton competing with the tribe’s planned $1 billion First Light Resort and Casino in Taunton less than 20 miles from the site of the planned Brockton casino.

In a statement issued after the commission’s vote, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell said his tribe and native people have historically “been the recipients of a string of broken promises.” But he commended the commission on making “a difficult but wise and just decision.”

“We are upholding our end of the bargain and are on schedule to open our doors for business by next summer,” Cromwell said in the statement. “Today, the Gaming Commission upheld the Commonwealth’s end of the bargain, paving the way for a fruitful economic partnership that will uplift my people and create economic opportunities for the city of Taunton, southeastern Massachusetts and indeed the entire state.”

Without a commercial casino in the region, the tribal casino will have to pay taxes to the state. Had the commission chosen to grant a commercial license and allow both casinos to operate in the region, the state would have received no taxes from the tribal casino, which can be built without a state license now that the tribe has been awarded federal land in trust.

The 2011 expanded gaming law called for up to three commercial casinos and a slots parlor, but the tribe negotiated a Legislature-approved compact allowing them to forge ahead with a revenue sharing agreement with the state contigent on it not facing competition in the region.

The other State House officials who represent Brockton — Reps. Claire Cronin and Michelle DuBois — did not return calls from the News Service on Thursday.

Thursday’s vote to deny MG&E a commercial license may not be the end of the road for Brockton’s casino hopes, the commissioners said. The Department of the Interior’s award of land in trust for the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is being challenged in a federal lawsuit that could derail the tribe’s longstanding quest for a casino. In that case, the Gaming Commission could re-open the commercial licensing process.

“Circumstances could change. If we don’t award the license we retain the option to re-bid this years down the line or however long later,” Commissioner Enrique Zuniga said. “I know that’s not what the city of Brockton would like to hear, but in the notion of risk there is a lot that we could learn along the way simply by preserving the option to award at a later time.”

Carpenter, the Brockton mayor, called the future of the tribal casino “so uncertain,” and said he plans to explore what options his city may have to challenge the federal land in trust designation with hopes of renewing the bid for a casino at the Brockton Fairgrounds.

“Now that this desicion has been made and the commissioners repeatedly cited the land in trust decision in Taunton as having changed the landscape for licenses in this region, I think in the very near future I’ll be sitting down with our city solicitor and our city attorneys to see what our options are,” Carpenter said. “If the decision is overturned in court, and I think there is a very strong possiblity that could happen, I would think and hope Brockton would go right back to the top of the list for a potential casino in region C.”

Copyright 2016 State House News Service

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