GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

January 24, 2013

Mall slots casino proposal sparks questions

Ethan Forman
Staff Writer

---- — DANVERS — A casino developer is eyeing Danvers for a 24-hour slots parlor at the Liberty Tree Mall, but the proposal is already generating concerns from officials there, and among neighboring businesses, including one owned by a couple from Gloucester.

According to several Danvers selectmen, the proposal calls for 1,250 slot machines in the former Sports Authority location at the back of the mall, near Old Navy. The Sports Authority has moved to a new location at the front of the mall.

Town Manager Wayne Marquis said he received a call Jan. 10 from a casino company representative who said Danvers is being considered as a location for a slots parlor, along with another undisclosed location in the state. Marquis consulted with town counsel and other officials, as well as with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, and had a follow-up conversation with a company representative last Thursday, along with Town Counsel Dave DeLuca. Marquis also notified selectmen.

Marquis declined to identify the developer, but several selectmen confirmed that it is PPE Casino Resorts, an affiliate of The Cordish Companies, a Baltimore real estate development company that has built a variety of projects, including hotels and casinos.

Under the state’s complex Gaming Act, residents would have to vote to approve a slots parlor in town. The legislation also makes available a liquor license for the slots parlor, even if a community has maxed out on the number.

The legislation allowing casino gaming in the state calls for three resort casino licenses, each in a different region of the state: western Massachusetts, southeastern Massachusetts and Greater Boston. The law also permits a single slots parlor but does not specify a region.

On Jan. 15, the state announced that it had received 11 gaming applications at the start of a two-phase process and that each applicant had paid the nonrefundable fee of $400,000. Many casino applicants are talking to communities where they might be hosted, said Elaine Driscoll, a spokeswoman for the state Gaming Commission; at least three companies, including.

PPE’s application does not disclose which type of gaming license it is seeking, a resort casino or slots parlor, nor does it say in what region it might be eyeing a project. Investigators are reviewing the applications, and they are not public records, Driscoll said.

According to The Cordish Companies website, its affiliate Power Plant Entertainment LLC developed two Hard Rock-themed hotels and casinos in Hollywood and Tampa, Fla. It is also building a $500 million casino in Indianapolis and has been selected by the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin to develop a $750 million resort casino in New York. The company opened the Maryland Live! Casino this past June.

Spokeswoman Ashley Miller sent in a statement that said PPE Casino Resorts is “still evaluating several excellent sites within the state and deciding between the category 1 and 2 licenses.”

“Danvers is one of the locations they are looking at,” Selectman Dan Bennett said.

The proposal would require a 50,000-square-foot addition to the former 47,000-square-foot location of the Sports Authority at the back of the mall, Bennett said. A spokesman for the mall’s owner declined comment.

The Gaming Commission says preliminary investigations of applicants could take up to six months, and once a casino or slots parlor application passes muster, “host communities may hold their local referendum, which is required in order for an applicant to submit a Phase 2 application,” Driscoll said.

Phase 1 of the application process looks at an applicant’s finances and integrity, while Phase 2 “is the site-specific plan and is not yet required of applicants,” Driscoll said. The commission would like to award the single slots license by this fall.

One who’s not in favor of a new Liberty Tree Mall slots parlor is Rosalie Parisi of Gloucester, who, with her husband Sam, opened a second Lucky 7 arcade in the Liberty Tree Mall last July.

“What would it do? It could put us right out of business,” Rosalie Parisi said. “They’ll be able to give out cash. We don’t give out cash, we give prizes — gift certificates that send people to local businesses and help the local economy. They wouldn’t do that.”

The Parisis have also owned and operated Lucky 7 on Rogers Street in Gloucester for the last 6 1/2 years. Their arcades include 50 machines in Gloucester and another 40 in Danvers, and the company employs more than 10 people, Rosalie Parisi said.

Sam Parisi said he doesn’t think the Liberty Tree Mall is an appropriate site for a slots casino of the scope proposed — and is confident that town officials and others will see it that way as well.

“Our customers are mostly elderly people just looking to have a good time, and win some prizes,” he said. “This (slots casino) would be something else altogether,” he added, suggesting better locations might be at Suffolk Downs or at the sites of greyhound racing tracks in Taunton or Plainfield.

Danvers Selectman Keith Lucy said he also believes the Liberty Tree Mall may not be an appropriate location because the mall site is so constrained.

“It’s already bound in all directions,” Lucy said.

Bennett said it does not make sense to locate a casino — even a slots parlor — in Danvers if one is approved at Suffolk Downs. Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, whose long list of partners includes Caesars Entertainment, is proposing a resort casino at the East Boston horse track. There are two other proposals in Greater Boston, including one by casino developer Steve Wynn in Everett and one by Crossroads Massachusetts in Milford. Other companies, including MGM Resorts, Hard Rock International, and the Mohegan tribe that owns Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun, are targeting sites in Western Massachusetts.

“There are a lot of questions to be decided,” said Bennett, who said he is concerned about increased traffic on Endicott and Purchase streets and the possible consequence of increased insurance rates for Danvers drivers. The town’s Police Department is understaffed, and Bennett has questions about how a casino might affect public safety.

Selectman Gardner Trask said there’s not enough information yet to form an opinion. There are questions about size, scope and details of the operation that have yet to be answered, he noted.

“I think we need to be thorough, especially for something as controversial as this,” Trask said.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, via email at eforman@gloucestertimes.com, or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.