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Residents keep door open for casino plan

By Lisa Kocian
Globe Staff / June 3, 2012
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Although a proposed Milford casino’s competition for a state license seems to be falling away, that hasn’t made the path for the Crossroads Resort any clearer.

Still, the lack of opposition from Milford residents might be the most telling indicator that the casino complex could indeed open someday along Interstate 495.

Last month, Las Vegas magnate Steve Wynn dropped plans for a casino next to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, after candidates opposed to it were elected to the Board of Selectmen. And Boston native Sheldon Adelson, owner of the Venetian in Las Vegas, also recently confirmed that he would not pursue a casino license in Massachusetts.

David Nunes, the developer behind Crossroads, said neither announcement surprised him. He said he expected the Foxborough collapse all along.

“Those that follow this closely, as I have, realize Foxborough was going to be a tough sell,” he said. “When a community gets its back up, especially in New England, and says this is not what we want, you can pretty much take it to the bank.”

Such opposition — except from surrounding towns — has been essentially absent in Milford, where town leaders say their constituents are voicing openness to the idea. Residents of nearby communities, such as Holliston and Hopkinton, don’t get a vote. Milford’s referendum, still many months away, would be binding.

Crossroads’ biggest competition for the region’s casino license, Suffolk Downs in East Boston, might have an edge as an established gambling facility, but it also has more vocal opposition than the Milford project.

“The vast majority of people in Milford are pretty content to look at the situation and say: ‘It’s a business. If it comes forward, let’s evaluate it,’” said state Representative John Fernandes, a Democrat who represents Milford.

He said what happened in Foxborough is a good indication that the community really does get a voice.

“I think Foxborough may have given everybody the comfort level, ‘Yeah the statute does work,’ ” said Fernandes.

He also noted that even without opposition, there is still a long list of potential problems that have to be resolved for the Milford project to work.

Water is a question, he said, as is traffic, and the mitigation that any host community would require.

“I’ve always thought that these things are lightning in a bottle,” said Fernandes. “Irrespective of the competition, even if there was no competition, I think the proposal in Milford is a difficult one.”

Brian Murray, chairman of the Milford Board of Selectmen, said he is hearing from townspeople who say they are keeping an open mind on the casino proposal.

“I think mostly the people I’m talking to are favorable to the idea of looking at it,” he said. “Most of the folks I’ve been talking to or that stop me are open to the idea of examining it or considering it.”

Murray said he sees his role as making sure voters have a detailed proposal to consider before they go to the ballot box.

“I think I see the role now of the Board of Selectmen as trying to have this developer put forth the most comprehensive and complete proposal that he can, with enough evaluation on the town’s end so that the townspeople can have an informed vote on the issue,” he said.

It’s not clear yet how much detail Nunes — or any developer — will provide. Nunes said some information may be limited by competitive nature of the process, with one casino license up for grabs in Eastern Massachusetts.

“I think we’ll talk in general parameters,” he said.

The Crossroads proposal already shared with the town calls for an $850 million complex that would feature a 176,000-square-foot gambling floor, a 350-room hotel, and 60,000 square feet of restaurants and retail shops.

Nunes said he is focused on working out financing, and hopes to announce the entire team for his project in the next three to four months.

The only other partner that has been publicly announced is Bill Warner of Warner Gaming, which operates the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

Lisa Kocian can be reached at lkocian@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeLisaKocian.

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