Days after Foxwoods, the well-known Connecticut casino, announced it is partnering with Colorado developer David Nunes on his Milford casino proposal, Nunes said last week he intends to hold meetings with Milford residents and those of surrounding towns to lay out details of his project.
He said the meetings will start “very quickly.’’
“I am willing to speak to anybody at any time, and work out or resolve any issue,” said Nunes.
The news that Foxwoods Resort Casino is now a partner in the Milford casino proposal is causing consternation in neighboring communities, while Milford officials maintain the same “wait and see” attitude they have espoused for months.
State Representative Carolyn Dykema, a Holliston Democrat who represents Hopkinton, Southborough, and part of Westborough, was critical of the new partnership, and said the progression of the proposal with new financing and still no outreach to surrounding towns is a problem.
“It seemed a bit sketchy before and it seems even more so now,” she said after the Foxwoods announcement. “We need to have a lot of questions answered, and this just raises more.”
But Nunes rejected accusations from Dykema and other casino opponents that he is keeping them in the dark about his plans.
“This whole dialogue is beginning to jell, and for anybody to jump to any conclusions and to assume we are not being responsive is irresponsible as a public stakeholder,” Nunes said.
Everyone seems to agree that the addition of Foxwoods gives the Milford project a big boost, making it a serious contender in the fight for the sole Eastern Massachusetts casino license being offered under the state’s new gambling law.
Dykema said it prompts questions about why Foxwoods would join Nunes, who filed his application with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which is evaluating Milford alongside proposals from Suffolk Downs and Caesars Entertainment in East Boston, as well as Las Vegas casino owner Steve Wynn’s proposal for a site in Everett along the Mystic River.
Nunes’ Milford proposal, on a site along Interstate 495, was seen as an underdog compared with the bigger names attached to his two competitors, but the Foxwoods partnership puts him on more even ground.
Dykema said she is concerned about the rights of Hopkinton and Holliston, who would have limited input. Milford, as the host community, gets a binding vote on the casino, and, she said, so should Holliston, which borders the proposed casino site, and Hopkinton, which is close enough to feel the impacts from traffic and other issues.
“I want to push for a vote,” said Dykema. “Any other community that has substantial impacts in addition to the host community should have a vote as well, and clearly Holliston and Hopkinton both have substantial impacts that I believe are comparable to the impacts on the host community, and therefore they should have a vote.”
She said she has never heard from Nunes, and is concerned he is not considering the towns she represents.
“If this proposal is serious they need to engage with surrounding communities, and the fact that this is continuing without any attempt to reach out to surrounding communities raises questions about how serious they are in engaging around the impacts,” said Dykema.
But Nunes said he thinks that “there has to be separate meetings with surrounding communities.”
“We have an obligation to not only the host community but surrounding communities,’’ he continued. “I’m not saying we’ll reach an accommodation, but I’m saying we have to reach out and try to achieve an accommodation.”
The state Gaming Commission is drafting regulations concerning surrounding communities, according to spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll.
Foxwoods will have to undergo the same review as any other applicant, she added.
“They weren’t listed originally as a partner with the documents first submitted back on Jan. 15, but they didn’t have to be,” said Driscoll. “It’s not unusual for applicants to identify either additional financial or operational partners. That said, anybody new that comes to the table to participate has to go through the necessary background investigation.”
Although there is significant support in Milford for a casino, proponents haven’t organized formally the way opponents have. Foxwoods brings new challenges for opponents.
Having Foxwoods as a partner will help the Milford proposal make it through the first round of commission review going on now, said Ken Rockett, spokesman for Casino-Free Milford.
“It’s a strong partner for Nunes,” he said. “It’s definitely going to help to have deep pockets. It’s going to help his capitalization. The name recognition certainly is not going to hurt. . . I think it means a lot to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.”
Still, the addition of Foxwoods doesn’t alter his group’s game plan — at least for now.
“It doesn’t change what we’re fighting much,” he said. “Maybe they’re more savvy about marketing it than somebody else would have been, but I don’t know, we haven’t seen any marketing efforts yet. Other than that, we’re still going full speed ahead.”
Most observers seem to agree that the Foxwoods partnership gives the Milford project more weight.
Barry Feingold, president of the Milford Area Chamber of Commerce, has said the project is exciting and members support more jobs in the area, but the chamber hasn’t issued a formal opinion yet.
“With Foxwoods they’ll have the financial backing to put them in the running,” he said. “I think it certainly makes it a more serious project. . . What we’re still waiting for, of course, is to see more detailed plans of the project.”
Milford selectmen, who have expressed openness to the project, say Foxwoods doesn’t change anything.
“I think a lot of people in Milford do go to Foxwoods,” said Dino DeBartolomeis, a lifelong resident and Milford selectman since 1982. “It’s a name people know, but that doesn’t mean anything in and of itself.” What really matters is the relationship with Nunes, he said.
“He seems like a very upfront businessman, and everything that he’s told us in the past has come true,” said DeBartolomeis. “The Board of Selectmen will have to work very, very closely with him as this goes along.”
Just like Milford voters, he said, he’ll have to weigh impacts on infrastructure and traffic against the potential jobs and revenue.
“I’m not excited and I’m not apprehensive about the proposal,” he said.
“I think we have to know fully what it entails.”