December 28, 2011
This installment of The Tribe In The Media is an article from The Republican in which Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority (MTGA) CEO Mitchell Etess discusses what steps MTGA expects to take in their bid to open a casino in Massachussets. Massachussetts legalized casino gambling late this year and will seek applications for three casinos, of which MTGA expects to apply for the casino license slated for Western region of Massachussetts.
Mohegan Sun eyes vote next year for Palmer casino in Western Massachusetts
By Dan Ring
December 27, 2011
BOSTON - The chief executive of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority said he is confident that an agreement for a casino in Palmer will go before voters in the town next year.
In an interview Tuesday to discuss prospects for a Palmer casino during the year ahead, Mitchell G. Etess, chief executive officer of the authority, said he expects his company can negotiate an agreement with town officials in Palmer for a casino and then ask voters for approval via a binding referendum.
Etess said next year will be a pivotal one for Palmer and the Mohegan tribal authority.
Etess said that he will likely do some campaigning himself for the proposed Palmer casino.
"We feel very confident," he said. "We're not taking anything for granted but we feel good about the support we have in Palmer."
Under a law signed by Gov. Deval L. Patrick on Nov. 22, a casino would need approval of a majority of voters in the community where it wants to locate. Voters would cast ballots on the terms of a deal reached by the community and the casino.
The law authorizes up to three casino resorts in different geographic zones including one for anywhere in the four counties of Western Massachusetts.
Etess said the Mohegan authority is preparing to submit an application for a license for a casino next year.
A five-member Massachusetts Gaming Commission would regulate and permit casinos, but it is unclear if the commission will start accepting applications for casino resorts next year.
"The sooner they get going, the sooner they get jobs and tax revenues," Etess said.
The Mohegan has been planning the Palmer casino for more than four years including opening a storefront office in downtown Palmer two years ago.
A casino company would need to pay for the costs of a local ballot question, according to the law.
"We feel very, very good about all the time and effort we've put in," Etess said. "It will certainly pay dividends for us."
The Palmer casino would cost about $600 million and would be located on 152 acres off Exit 8 of the Massachusetts Turnpike. It would create about 2,500 to 3,000 permanent jobs to operate the casino and 1,200 to 1,500 construction jobs each year during up to two years of building, according to company officials.
It would include a 600-room hotel and spa, slots, table games, restaurants and retail shops.
Etess said he is not surprised at the competition developing for a casino in Western Massachusetts.
At least three other casino companies are angling for a project in the region. Ameristar Casinos, Inc. of Las Vegas is planning a casino at the site of the old Westinghouse plant off Page Boulevard in Springfield.
Hard Rock International of Florida is proposing a casino for Holyoke, and Penn National Gaming of Pennsylvania has not announced a site yet but has said it is focusing on Western Massachusetts.
Etess said the authority still is seeking a financial partner for the Palmer project. He declined to comment at length, citing agreements for the talks to be confidential.
"There is a significant amount of interest in being part of Mohegan Sun in Palmer," he said.
The tribal authority needs a financial partner because of its heavy debt of $1.59 billion as of June 30. Etess said the authority is planning to refinance the debt but has not yet reached terms on a refinancing. "We're aware of our financial situation," he said.
The authority, an instrument of the federally-recognized Mohegan Tribe in Connecticut, owns and operates the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut and the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Pennsylvania.
Paul E. Burns, president of the Palmer Town Council, said Tuesday that it's possible an agreement between the town and the Mohegan authority can be ironed out by April.
"It's important we do it early and hit the ground running," Burns said. "We should continue to be the leader in the state on this issue."
Burns said a ballot question on the casino could be held by some time in the early summer.
Burns said an agreement with Mohegan would spell out certain details of the project including compensation for the town, plans for infrastructure such as removal of waste water, and road improvements such as a proposed "flyover" road off the Massachusetts Turnpike to carry motorists to the planned casino resort.
Palmer voters approved a non-binding ballot question for a casino in April of 1997, but casinos were illegal at the time. Palmer voters passed the measure 2,444 to 1,935, or 54 percent to 46 percent, according to an article in the library of The Republican.
Burns said he is confident voters in Palmer would approve a ballot question for a casino next year. "At the end of the day, it will pass," he said.
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