Worcester Councilors Want Public Input on Proposed Slots Parlor
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Councilors Frederick Rushton, Joseph O'Brien, Anthony Economou, Kathleen Toomey, Sarai Rivera and Mayor Joseph Petty all signed onto an order calling for a joint meeting of the Council's Economic Development and Public Safety committees for public hearings on the host-community agreement in order to give Worcester residents an opportunity to provide input on what should be included in said agreement. The order requested that City Manager Michael O'Brien lend his aid as well, by "providing appropriate department resources, such as legal, economic, law enforcement and public works, for such hearings and invite any other stakeholders the City Manager deems appropriate."
Councilor Konstantina Lukes, who has been outspoken in her opposition to bringing gaming to Worcester, added an order of her own, requesting that "If the City Council Standing Committee on Economic Development holds hearings concerning the siting of proposed potential slot parlors, that the Committee allow testimony in opposition to the siting of a slots parlor in Worcester."
The orders followed news last week that Massachusetts Gaming & Entertainment, a subsidiary of Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming, which operates urban casinos in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pa. as well as Des Plaines, Ill., had specified Worcester as the site for its planned slots parlor. The company, whose plans include a hotel component, is one of four applicants competing for the Commonwealth's sole slot parlor license under the state's new casino gaming law.
Both orders regarding the host-community agreement and public hearings were placed on the agenda for Tuesday's City Council meeting, which was cancelled late yesterday afternoon in light of inclement weather and the potential for icy roads and sidewalks in the evening hours, so they will likely not be taken up until next month, as the Council does not meet next week.
Impacts must be identified and addressed
The lone slot parlor license will be processed first by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and is expected to be issued this fall.
While background investigations by the state's Gaming Commission into the applicants for both the slot parlor license and the three resort casino licenses, the state also requires an agreement between the applicants and the municipality where their gaming facility will be or is proposed to be located.
According to the Gaming Commission, "the agreement must identify and appropriately address all impacts the gaming facility will have on the host community." The host community is also required to host a referendum to approve said agreement.
Surrounding communities, those in close enough proximity to host communities as to likely feel the impact of a nearby gaming establishment, also require signed agreements between the municipality and the applicant.
The agreement can be entered into at any time so long as it conforms with local standards and procedures. However, the Gaming Commission has noted that due to the complicated application and permitting process, applicants are likely to start discussions and negotiations on host and surrounding community agreements as soon as they are able.
While the proposed slot parlor could potentially result in over $200 million in local investment and the creation of close to 600 jobs, Lukes was not sold on the idea when asked about it last week.
"There's so many other costs that you have to consider other than cash," she said. "I see so many difficulties with an urban slots parlor even if they're dangling a hotel in front of us."
The Wyman-Gordon property off of Southbridge St. is seen as the most likely potential site for the slot parlor. Earlier this year, it was announced that the property was under agreement with Cambridge-based Carpenter & Company, Inc., according to a letter from City Manager Michael O'Brien to the City Council issued in January.
Lukes noted that the area near the Wyman-Gordon property is the busiest traffic area in the City and is located in the middle of an active neighborhood.
Fitting into Worcester's 'broader economic development agenda'
City Manager O'Brien wrote in a memo to the City Council last week that the proposal by Mass Gaming & Entertainment was just a first step, and many more details were still to come.
"I have been clear that any proposal would have to integrate with our broader economic development agenda underway and it must compliment, and not undermine or siphon away from, our theaters, cultural venues, restaurants and businesses," he wrote. "They have been listening intently. The concepts they have discussed, to include a full service hotel, are on the right path."
Greg Carlin, CEO of Rush Street Gaming, told GoLocalWorcester he would be in Worcester this week to meet with officials and further discuss Mass Gaming's plan for a slot parlor in New England's second-largest city.
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