SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 27, 2013

Casino operator not ready to make pitch

BY ETHAN FORMAN
STAFF WRITER

---- — DANVERS — Representatives of the real estate developer and casino operator proposing a slots parlor at the Liberty Tree Mall will not be ready to make a pitch to selectmen and residents on Tuesday, town officials said.

“They are not going to be ready for the presentation on March 5,” said selectmen Chairman Bill Clark, who was informed of the change through the town manager’s office.

The idea of a meeting in the high school auditorium came up when a number of concerned residents, many from the River Run condominium complex adjacent to the mall, went before selectmen on Feb. 5 to learn more about the plan. According to officials, PPE Casino Resorts, an affiliate of the Baltimore, Md.-based The Cordish Companies, is eyeing a 1,250-machine slots parlor in the approximately 50,000-square-foot former Sports Authority space at the back of the mall.

Jeff Snyder, a project manager for Cordish, emailed the town and said he appreciated the input and concerns, Town Manager Wayne Marquis said.

“Any presentation they make needs to be detailed and has to have specifics,” Marquis said.

So far, the company has declined to say where in the state it intends to locate a slots parlor, Marquis said. In addition to Danvers, Cordish is looking into another, unknown, community, he said.

Earlier this month, four selectmen met privately, individually or in pairs with Snyder. Board members learned about other Cordish casinos but said in interviews that they did not get a lot of detail.

“They have yet to give us any information of any kind,” Clark said.

One bit of information came recently when the Massachusetts Gaming Commission announced that it was prioritizing to award the state’s sole slots parlor license ahead of those for resort casinos. To make a proper background check, the commission required the two undecided applicants, which included PPE Casino Resorts, to decide on a license.

“PPE Casino Resorts has reported to MGC that they plan to pursue the slots license,” said Elaine Driscoll, director of communications for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

PPE has yet to tell the commission where it intends to locate.

Clark said the negative calls he has received about the proposal outweigh the positive ones “102-2.”

“I’ve never had this many people contact me about anything,” Clark said.

The commission anticipates awarding a slots parlor license by Sept. 1. Marquis, however, said that appears to be an ambitious timetable.

For instance, for host communities, the state has grants available of $50,000 or more to help figure out technical issues associated with siting a casino. For a community to do a study, it would have to go through a public bidding process before a consultant could go to work. None of that can begin until a community is identified as a host site.

If a host agreement is signed, Marquis said, the state’s gaming law calls for a vote no sooner than 60 days and no later than 90 days, Marquis said, meaning that the process would probably carry on into the fall.

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