SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 9, 2013

Few details on slots parlor plan

BY ETHAN FORMAN
STAFF WRITER

---- — DANVERS — Four selectmen met with an official from a casino developer interested in siting a slots parlor at the Liberty Tree Mall, but selectmen say they didn’t get many specifics.

The developer, The Cordish Companies of Baltimore, Md., also did not commit to a Danvers site.

Town Manager Wayne Marquis said selectmen and town officials met with Jeff Snyder, a project manager for Cordish, individually and in pairs to avoid violating the open meeting laws. Selectman Mike Powers was unable to attend.

“It was kind of a meet and greet,” said Selectman Dan Bennett, who said a public meeting is tentatively scheduled for March 5, if Cordish is still interested.

Board members gained some insight: A slots parlor would have a capacity of 2,500 people and up to 1,250 slots, including so-called electronic table games that do not require a dealer, selectmen said.

Selectmen said they were told the former Sports Authority building at the back of the mall, at 50,000 square feet, could accommodate a slots parlor that could employ 700 people, without need for an expansion.

During this stage of the application process, Cordish officials do not have to name a site, and it has not yet told the state what kind of license, casino or slots, it intends to pursue.

“They have not yet confirmed with us,” Massachusetts Gaming Commission spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll said in an email.

“They still have the basic threshold decision: is this something we are going to do or not,” Marquis said.

Danvers is being eyed for a slots-only facility, Marquis said, not a casino. Danvers is also not the only location in the state the company is eyeing.

“It was a good meeting,” said Selectman Gardner Trask. “This is really an exploratory discussion.”

Trask said he asked about parking, traffic and infrastructure but got few details. One thing Trask does not want to see is more traffic on Constitution Lane, a back entrance to the mall that leads to residential streets.

“I told them they have to convince me; I am not sold yet,” said Trask. He said his questions would be the same for any large development being proposed in town, and he has no problem with gaming.

Bill Clark, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said he has received more phone calls, emails and letters about this issue than he ever has since being elected in 2006, and all the calls are running against a slots parlor.

“They made almost no commitment, they were noncommittal,” Clark said of the casino developer.

Clark said he is concerned about increased traffic on local roads, with Route 128 in need of expansion and Route 114 resembling a parking lot on Saturday afternoons.

Selectman Keith Lucy said it is way too soon to talk specifics with Cordish, and that many details, such as revenues to the town and other mitigation issues, are best left for negotiations.

“We are going through a process to define what it is, and there will be plenty of time to debate once we ... define what it is,” said Lucy. He noted there is a process to vet any proposal that is made, including a 60- to 90-day window before any vote on a host agreement.

Cordish officials are sympathetic to residents’ concerns about traffic, Lucy said, with the idea that if people can’t get to the slots parlor, Cordish has done something wrong.

Lucy said he told the Cordish official he would like to see a series of open forums with residents if Cordish chooses Danvers as a location.

How much tax revenue the town might get is up in the air. Given that the casino developer would be leasing space at the mall, Marquis said an increase in property tax revenue would come indirectly through an increase in the mall’s assessment. The town could also see an increase in meals tax revenue, as a slots parlor would probably come with an upscale restaurant. There is also the question of how slot machines themselves might be taxed, whether they could be taxed as personal property.

Finally, he noted that the gaming act doesn’t spell out what might constitute a host community agreement or fee.

Cordish has developed two Hard Rock-themed hotels and casinos in Hollywood and Tampa, Fla., and last year opened a casino at the Arundel Mills Mall in Hanover, Md. Arundel Mills is owned by Simon Property Group, which also owns the Liberty Tree Mall.

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