BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — DANVERS — The North of Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau’s Tourism Summit takes place on Friday, and one of the topics not on its list of workshops is how a slots parlor at the Liberty Tree Mall might impact tourism.
Until now, when local business leaders and tourism officials have discussed a casino, they’ve been referring to a proposed resort at Suffolk Downs in East Boston. Last week, however, Danvers officials confirmed that they have been approached by a casino developer interested in siting a slots parlor with 1,250 machines at the mall.
Local tourism officials voted about a year and a half ago to support the proposal for a resort casino at Suffolk Downs, but they’ve not taken a stance on the Danvers proposal, which is still in the early stages.
Rinus Oosthoek, executive director of the Salem Chamber of Commerce and co-chairman of this week’s seventh annual Tourism Summit, said he thinks a Danvers slots parlor “would be good for the North Shore.”
“I think it’s another attraction for the North Shore,” Oosthoek said. “It diversifies the offerings” in the region. Oosthoek said a slots parlor would attract a different clientele than a full-fledged casino, but that even a slots parlor could be themed to attract tourists.
“In a general sense,” he said, “if it diversifies the local tourism options. It helps.”
It could also create construction jobs, and jobs for those who work at the casino, he added.
Robert Lutts, chairman of the North Shore Chamber of Commerce, also has a positive outlook.
“Generally, any new economic development in terms of building an activity or event is positive,” said Lutts, who is president and chief investment officer of Cabot Money Management in Salem.
Hotels are a positive because they bring new people and can stimulate a local economy, Lutts said. Casinos, on the other hand, have a slightly different impact.
“It’s a positive, but it does take away from a few other recreational opportunities,” he said.
Movie theaters and taverns might see a short-term hit in terms of competition, but in the long run, he thinks all businesses will benefit. For example, he notes, a Walmart will often be located near a Target; the discount retailers like to be near one another as a draw to customers.
“If I’m a mall operator or someone who has a store in there, I’m liking the news,” Lutts said.
Who might be drawn to a Danvers slots parlor? Gamblers will go, but some seniors might look at Danvers as a desirable place to live, providing a boost to area retirement centers, he said.
Danvers officials are in early talks with representatives of PPE Casino Resorts MA, an affiliate of The Cordish Companies, a Baltimore-based real estate development firm, about the possibility of a slots parlor at the mall. From a developer’s perspective, Danvers might be attractive because of its easy access, a town where Interstate 95 and routes 1 and 128 meet.
But the proposal has already sparked some concerns about traffic, public safety and whether the mall site is suitable.
Oosthoek is especially interested in what breakfast keynote speaker Thomas Glynn, the CEO and executive director of Massport, has to say regarding what kind of road improvements might take place if Suffolk Downs is awarded a gaming license.
Oosthoek said a new casino might actually help alleviate traffic, because under the state’s Gaming Act, casino developers are required to mitigate the impact of their projects, and that could mean new road projects for the area. Much of the concern about a casino at Suffolk Downs centers on the ability of North Shore commuters to get in and out of Boston, and particularly to and from Logan Airport, something that can be difficult to do now.
“Suffolk Downs,” Oosthoek said, “could be the best opportunity to improve traffic.”
Not everyone is on board with a slots parlor in Danvers if Suffolk Downs wins a license, on the theory that two gaming locations within 15 miles of one another might saturate the market.
“I’m skeptical of any slots in Danvers if Suffolk Downs gets the slots or the casino,” said Danvers state Rep. Ted Speliotis.
If the mall gets a slots parlor, its focus may shift from a retail to a casino destination, he said, noting that the state law also provides a way for a slots parlor to convert to a full-fledged casino.
“I know in other parts of the country, small slot machine parlors have been integrated into neighborhoods,” Speliotis said, “but I feel the Liberty Tree Mall is a stepchild to the Northshore Mall, and it could be absorbed by gambling.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.
MORE ON TOURISM
What: Seventh annual Tourism Summit
Sponsored by: North of Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau
When: Friday, Feb. 1, 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: Boston Peabody Marriott, 8A Centennial Drive, Peabody
Keynote speakers: Thomas Glynn, CEO and executive director of Massport; Erik Rodenhiser, owner of The Griffen Theatre in Salem
Admission: $64 for NBCVB members; nonmembers, $74; students, $48
Free events: Tourism U workshops at 2 and 3 p.m.
Register online: www.mktix.com/nob/