, Salem, MA

January 25, 2013

Our view: Slots proposal raises unanswered questions

The Salem News

---- — News earlier this week that a Maryland company has hopes for a sprawling slots parlor at Danvers’ Liberty Tree Mall caught most North Shore residents off guard. Years of debate over the expansion of gambling in the region and across the state led most folks to believe the closest that growth would come to their homes would be a possible new casino at Suffolk Downs in East Boston.

In filing its last-minute application to the state, however, PPE Casino Resorts, an affiliate of The Cordish Companies, brought not only Danvers but the entire North Shore into the debate.

Since Cordish’s application was accompanied by a nonrefundable $400,000 state filing fee, we’re assuming it means business. Its affiliates have developed two Hard Rock-themed casinos in Hollywood and Tampa, Fla.. Cordish is also building a $500 million casino in Indianapolis and will build a $750 million resort casino in New York for the Oneida tribe.

The Danvers plan calls for a 24-hour-a-day, 1,250-machine slot parlor at the old Sports Authority site at Liberty Tree, near Old Navy (Sports Authority has moved to a new spot at the front of the mall). The proposal calls for a 50,000-square-foot addition to the site. Beyond that, there are few details.

While we are among those who feel expanded gaming has a role to play the recovery of the state’s economy — many of the state’s residents currently leave the state to enjoy Connecticut casinos, and expansion here would mean more jobs and more revenue for cash-strapped communities — we agree with Danvers officials who have expressed skepticism about the proposal.

“I haven’t made up my mind, but at first blush, there are better places than the Liberty Tree Mall,” said Selectman Mike Powers, who notes that the mall abuts residential neighborhoods on Ash and Sylvan streets and is near a large condominium complex on Abington Road.

Dan Bennett, Powers’ fellow board member, wonders how the addition of a slots parlor would affect public safety, given the fact that the town’s police force is already understaffed. And we wonder how an adults-only gambling parlor would change the makeup of what is now a child-friendly mall. Would one simply be able to walk from the pet store to a slot machine?

There are also questions about adding more automobiles to what is often a traffic nightmare on Endicott Street, Route 128 and Route 114.

The plan is anything but a slam dunk. State law allows for three resort casino licenses spread across the state, along with a single slots parlor, and Cordish is one of 11 applicants. Cordish is also considering other locations for its slots. And if Cordish’s Danvers proposal clears the state hurdle, it would still be subject to a townwide vote.

Here’s hoping town officials receive — and share — more details on this plan before the state makes its decision this fall.