n Palmer, Mohegan Sun wants to build a us$ 700 million casino with 3,000 slot machines, a 600-room hotel and convention center, and up to five restaurants. The owner of Suffolk Downs in East Boston would spend up to us$ 750 million on an entertainment complex that would include both gambling and horse racing. In Milford, a Las Vegas casino operator has teamed with a developer to propose a us$ 675 million casino and 250-room hotel.
The legislation passed by the House this week would allow for two casinos in Massachusetts and let racetrack owners add as many as 750 slot machines to their facilities. Gambling developers are combing through the legislation to determine how best to position their proposals.
But the bidders may have to be patient. Leaders of the Massachusetts Senate indicated yesterday that they may take months to devise their own version of legalized gambling, one that could dif fer from the House’s. Final legislation must be approved by Governor Deval Patrick, a casino supporter.
So far, at least six major proposals for casinos have surfaced, including two from developers eyeing New Bedford and another from the Wampanoag tribe, which is exploring sites in Middleborough and Fall River. The owners of the Plainville and Raynham race tracks are pursuing slots-only developments.
House lawmakers estimate these facilities will generate us$ 300 million to us$ 500 million in tax revenues annually and create more than 15,000 jobs, many in the construction industry, where some job disciplines have unemployment rates of up to 30 %.
Last week was a time of optimism for racetrack owners and casino operators, many of whom have been hawking their proposals for years, only to be repeatedly blocked by the previous speaker of the Massachusetts House, Salvatore DiMasi.
With DiMasi gone and House approval now in hand, it appears more likely that some form of expanded gambling will pass this year. Senate President Therese Murray has generally supported it, although she has raised concerns about whether slot machines at racetracks would produce many jobs.
The House bill differs from one proposed by Patrick several years ago in at least one major respect: The governor proposed dividing the state into three zones, giving each region one casino. The House-passed legislation has no geographic divisions, instead awarding licenses based on a project’s economic potential.
Those proposals would undergo a lengthy evaluation by a five-member gaming commission and other state regulators, who would also review whether a project is appropriate for its host community and whether proponents sufficiently addressed impact to local businesses.
Applicants for casino licenses would be required to get approval from their host communities and pay an “impact fee’’ to offset the added costs of their developments. Should these conditions make it into a final version, establishing a gaming commission, hiring staff, and investigating the backgrounds and financial qualifications of the developers would take months. That makes it unlikely construction of new casinos and slots facilities would begin until sometime in 2011 at the earliest.
The Connecticut-based Mohegan Sun has been laying the groundwork for a casino on a 150-acre site in Palmer for more than a year. Chief executive Jeff Hartmann estimated it would create 3,000 jobs in an area of Western Massachusetts that has high unemployment. “Those who want to work can find a new career, and we’ll be able to provide that in Palmer,’’ Hartmann said.
An executive at Suffolk Downs, which is partnering with the former Wonderland dog track, said the horse track is ideally situated near major transportation hubs and would bring business to East Boston, Revere, and other surrounding communities. One of Suffolk Downs’s owners, Richard Fields, has developed resort casinos in Hollywood and Tampa, Fla.
“If authorized by the state, given our proximity to Logan Airport and our ability to enhance Greater Boston’s tourism economy, we are confident that a world-class entertainment and gaming complex here would be an economic driver for the region,’’ said Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer of Suffolk Downs.
Other would-be casino operators are emphasizing revitalization of long-vacant properties in depressed communities. In New Bedford, KG Urban Enterprises of New York is proposing a us$ 650 million casino on the site of a shuttered power plant on the city’s waterfront. The firm would turn the former plant into a casino and add a hotel, conference center, and retail.
Gambling opponents said these promises should be sharply scrutinized, arguing that the casinos will siphon business from local merchants and wind up saddling residents with higher taxes to pay for the effects of gambling.
Laura Everett, associate director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, said the 15,000 new jobs the House estimated seems exaggerated compared to what other states have experienced. Four years after Pennsylvania legalized gambling in 2004, nine gaming facilities had produced fewer than 6,000 jobs, Everett said, citing a recent report in Commonwealth magazine.
“We’re deeply skeptical about these numbers,’’ Everett said. “There’s never been a real cost-benefit analysis.” Added Kathleen Conley Norbut, executive director of United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts: “The lack of intelligent analysis is truly disconcerting.”