SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 23, 2013

Mall slots parlor eyed

Proposal calls for 1,250 machines in Danvers

BY ETHAN FORMAN
STAFF WRITER

---- — DANVERS — A casino developer is eyeing Danvers for a 24-hour slots parlor at the Liberty Tree Mall.

According to several selectmen, the proposal calls for 1,250 slot machines at 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.

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 yesterday.

“Simon Property Group does not comment on leasing negotiations of Simon Malls,” said Les Morris, director of public relations.

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.

Bennett said it does not make sense to locate a casino 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.

“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.

The town may also see more tax dollars, but Bennett said he is concerned about balancing the town’s budget using a revenue stream that may fluctuate with the fortunes of the economy.

“It’s not prudent budgetary planning because you cannot predict it from year to year,” Bennett said.

Selectman Keith Lucy said 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.

Selectman Mike Powers also has reservations about the idea.

“I am not enamored of it having it at the Liberty Tree Mall,” Powers said, noting that the mall is a retail establishment near residential neighborhoods on Ash and Sylvan streets and near a large condominium complex on Abington Road. The town’s adult zone on Route 1 would be better suited to a slots parlor, he said.

“I haven’t made up my mind, but at first blush, there are better places than the Liberty Tree Mall,” Powers said.

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.

Trask has taken issue with the Lucky 7 Arcade at the mall, a casino-style amusement for adults that Trask said is “dancing on the fringes of the law.” In the Lucky 7’s case, Trask said, the operation is awarding prizes for playing games of skill, in contrast to a slots parlor, which is a pure gambling operation.

Selectman Bill Clark declined to comment on the issue.

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