Leominster voters approve building slot parlor

Leominster voters strongly endorsed a gambling proposal from Cordish Cos., on Tuesday, completing the field of contestants for the state’s only slot parlor license.

By a vote of 5,235 to 3,306, residents in the north-central Massachusetts city approved a plan by the Baltimore developer to build a $200 million gambling, dining, and entertainment hall near the junction of Route 117 and Interstate 190.

“We are thrilled that the residents of Leominster have given us their support for this project,” said Joe Weinberg, a managing partner at Cordish Cos., in a statement Tuesday night “We look forward to working with Mayor Dean J. Mazzarella and the whole community to create a true regional destination.”

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The resounding vote in Leominster, with 61 percent supporting the project, was the last public referendum in the statewide competition for the slots license, marking a milestone in the development of the fledgling Massachusetts casino industry.

Three applicants are expected to move on to the final stage of the slots competition, which will include public presentations before the five-member state gambling commission.

Cordish will compete with a Penn National Gaming project at Plainridge Racecourse, in Plainville, and a slot development plan at Raynham Park, the simulcast betting facility and former dog track in Raynham. The Raynham project would be developed in partnership with Greenwood Racing, owner of Parx Casino outside Philadelphia.

Cordish has developed Hard Rock casinos in Florida in partnership with Suffolk Downs principal owner Richard Fields, and in 2012 opened the Maryland Live! casino between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

Plainridge and Raynham Park have already won their referendum votes.

In addition to receiving approval from voters, each applicant must pass an intensive background check by state investigators and consultants.

Cordish and Raynham Park have passed their background checks and have been deemed qualified to hold a casino license. The background check on Penn National Gaming is nearly done, and the commission is expected to rule within the next week or so whether the company will be permitted to move forward with its bid, according to the commission.

The gambling commission hopes to award the slot license by the end of the year. It will be the first license issued under the 2011 Massachusetts casino law, which authorized three resort casinos, no more than one in each of three regions of the state, and one slot parlor, which can be built in any region. The slot parlor is limited to 1,250 machines and will have no live table games. It will pay 49 percent of its gambling revenue in state taxes, and requires a minimum investment of $125 million.

Cordish came to Leominster — the birthplace of Johnny Appleseed, about an hour west of Boston on Route 2 — after public officials in Boxborough and Salisbury passed on the company’s overtures.

Like most of the casino projects proposed around the state, Cordish’s campaign for the project focused on the jobs and revenue the slot parlor would create in the community of about 40,000 people.

David Cordish, the 73-year-old chairman of the company, personally knocked on doors in Leominster the weekend before the referendum, hustling for votes one house at a time.

Opponents claim the project would spoil the city’s small-town character.