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Shawn Dooley wins House seat

January 8, 2014 11:21 AM

House Republicans will soon add to their ranks after Shawn Dooley, the town clerk and School Committee chairman in Norfolk, cruised to victory Tuesday night over two challengers to capture the 9th Norfolk House seat vacated last year by former Rep. Daniel Winslow.

Dooley was able to hold the seat for the Republicans, defeating an independent and a Democrat, and will become the 29th member of the GOP House caucus when he is sworn in.

Dooley, 47, campaigned on small business creation, ending unfunded education mandates on cities and town, and making it easier for communities to regionalize services like public safety. He easily defeated independent Chris Timson of Walpole and Democrat Ed McCormick of Norfolk in Tuesday's special election.

The seat has been held by Republicans for two decades, including by former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and state Sen. Richard Ross. The district includes Medfield, Millis, Norfolk, Plainville, Walpole and Wrentham.

– M. Murphy/SHNS

A new name coming for that place known as Comcast Center

December 11, 2013 09:10 PM

Some of us remember when Mansfield outdoor amphitheater was called Great Woods. Now it’s been newly christened as the Xfinity Center, the fourth name in 27 years.

Now, stay with us here because this gets a bit confusing. Comcast in 2008 bought naming rights for the venue — then called the Tweeter Center after the now-bankrupt electronics chain—and immediately dubbed it the rather obvious Comcast Center. On Wednesday, Comcast and concert promoter Live Nation changed the name again, to the Xfinity Center, a nod to the company’s television and Internet business. Got it?

“We are excited to place the name Xfinity on one of the most-loved entertainment venues in New England,” said Steve Hackley, senior vice president of Comcast’s Greater Boston region. Full story for subscribers.

Suffolk Downs casino partnership with Mohegan Sun is official

November 27, 2013 02:21 PM

Suffolk Downs announced Wednesday afternoon that it will partner with Mohegan Sun on a resort casino proposed to be built on 42 acres of the racetrack’s 52-acre property in the city of Revere.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission also announced that Suffolk Downs and its casino plans are on the panel’s agenda for a meeting on Tuesday. The Globe reported the new partnership in Wednesday's paper.

Mohegan Sun, which operates casinos in Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, had sought a casino license in western Massachusetts until voters in Palmer rejected their proposal earlier this month by less than 100 votes, an outcome that was confirmed Tuesday in a recount.

Suffolk Downs dropped its gaming partner Caesars following a state background check just prior to losing a critical vote in East Boston on Nov. 5, which prompted the track to draw up plans for a new casino just over the city line in Revere.

“Mohegan Sun and Suffolk Downs each began our pursuit of a place in the Massachusetts gaming industry in different ways and different locations. Circumstances brought us together in recent days, and we immediately recognized that something truly special can be created in Revere,” said Mitchell Etess, CEO of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority.

Mohegan Sun and its financial partner Brigade Capital Management, which brings a $15 billion investment, have already been found suitable along with Suffolk Downs by the gaming commission to compete for a license.

As part of the new agreement with Suffolk Downs to become a development partner and gaming operator, Mohegan Sun has agreed to honor all commitments previously made by the track in its host community agreement with Revere, and plans to work with Suffolk Downs to reach surrounding community agreements.

Even though the terms of the host community agreement are not being altered, the commission has not yet ruled on whether the referendum vote in Revere taken when the project still included development in East Boston can stand for a Revere-only project. If Suffolk Downs and Revere can get a casino proposal on track, they would compete with neighboring Everett for the casino license in eastern Massachusetts.

In a statement, Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo said he was “very encouraged” by the new partnership.

- M. Murphy/SHNS

Milford voters overwhelmingly reject proposed casino

November 19, 2013 11:20 PM

Milford voters emphatically rejected a $1 billion Foxwoods-backed gambling resort on Tuesday, crushing a casino proposal five years in development, and shrinking the field of applicants for the state’s most lucrative gambling license.

The casino plan proposed by Foxwoods and its partners, the last of 11 original Massachusetts casino or slot parlor applicants to reach the ballot box, joins a prominent list of pricey projects to die at the hands of the voters.

“There was always a lot of opposition,” acknowledged somber Foxwoods chief executive Scott Butera, after the votes were counted. “We tried to change people’s minds and educate people, but we weren’t able to do it. “It just wasn’t meant to be.”

The Bay State suburbs have proven to be the graveyard of casino dreams, and Milford voters followed suit, defeating the proposal 6,361 to 3,480 in a town-wide referendum. Turnout was 57 percent of 17,400 registered voters, according to the town clerk’s office.

Report raises questions on Foxwoods casino bid in Milford

November 13, 2013 12:54 PM

BOSTON (AP) — A background check by investigators for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has raised questions about the ability of a group led by Connecticut casino operator Foxwoods to manage a proposed $1 billion resort casino in Milford.

The report, released by commission staff on Wednesday, urged the five-member panel to consider issues Foxwoods has had in finding additional financing, along with Foxwoods’ current debt and overall financial condition.

The commission is holding a two-day hearing before deciding whether the bidder, formally known as Crossroads Massachusetts, is suitable to submit a final application for the sole eastern Massachusetts resort casino license allowed under the state’s 2011 expanded gambling law.

The report said commissioners should question the ‘‘business ability of the applicant to run a successful gaming operation in Massachusetts given its difficulty in finding an additional equity interest and the current debt load and declining revenues of their proposed operator.’’

Karen Wells, director of the gambling agency’s investigations and enforcement bureau, said at the outset of the hearing that she was unable to advise the commissioners as to whether the Foxwoods bid should be cleared to continue in the process. She said the ‘‘glaring issue’’ involved the failure of the group to secure a 55 percent equity ownership interest in the project.

‘‘The IEB is not in a position to make a recommendation about suitability because we don’t have a complete picture of what this applicant is going to look like,’’ Wells said.

Scott Butera, Foxwoods’ president and chief executive, told the commission that Foxwoods was in active negotiations with two entities that had made ‘‘very strong offers’’ to fill the gap in equity funding.

‘‘I am confident in short order we will have that done,’’ Butera said.

He did not identify the potential equity partners, citing confidentiality in the negotiations, but said one was a private equity firm with experience in the casino industry, and the other a publicly traded company that would provide funding for the real estate portion of the development.

Butera said Foxwoods successfully restructured its debt earlier this year and is now on sound financial footing.

Stephen Crosby, chairman of the commission, said the panel would make a written recommendation on suitability at some point after the hearing was concluded.

Foxwoods must also gain the approval of Milford residents in a referendum scheduled for Tuesday before it can file a formal application by the Dec. 31 deadline. The project would be built on an undeveloped site near Interstate 495.

Las Vegas casino operator Steve Wynn, who has proposed a $1.2 billion resort casino along the Mystic River in Everett, is also pursuing the eastern Massachusetts license.

Another potential bidder for the license, Suffolk Downs, suffered a major blow last week when East Boston voters rejected the project in a referendum. The thoroughbred race track has since opened discussions with officials in Revere — where residents voted to back the proposed casino — about the possibility of moving the entire project into that city.

Public forum roundly endorses slots at Plainridge Racecourse

October 22, 2013 08:22 PM

One after another, state and local officials, residents, businesspeople and a senior citizen went to the microphone at a public meeting Tuesday to tell members of the state Gaming Commission they want a slots parlor in Plainville.

They said the plans by Penn National Gaming Inc. will not only be a boon to the small town by boosting revenue, but will reenergize small businesses and shops, and save harness racing at the last track in the state where it is still operating.

More than 75 people packed the meeting hosted by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission in Wrentham to hear input from area residents about plans by Penn National’s plans to build a slots parlor at the Plainridge Racecourse off Interstate 495 and Route 1 about five miles south of Gillette Stadium.

“This will be a death sentence for our town if we don’t get this, we’ll lose the track, we’ll lose the horses and we’ll lose the farm,” said Dale Bergevine, a lifelong resident of Plainville.

State Representative Elizabeth A. Poirier, Republican of North Attleborough, said Plainridge is the perfect site because of its location at the intersection of several major highways and proximity to the Comcast Center, Gillette Stadium, Emerald Square mall and the Wrentham Village Premium Outlets.

“It seems to make a great deal of sense that this would become a destination area,” she said. “I can’t imagine in all my wildest dreams that you would pick any other area but this one.”

The commissioners are expecting to make a decision on which of three applicants will receive the lone slots license on Jan. 9, according to Commissioner Enrique Zuniga.

Penn National’s $225 million plan is competing with the Cordish Cos., which has proposed a $204 million complex in Leominster, and Raynham Park and casino partner Greenwood Racing’s $227 million proposal.

Zuniga said the commission will consider numerous factors when making its decision, including finances, revenue, mitigation, economic development, building and site design, and a general overview of the entire project.

Just one area resident stood in opposition to the plans, Erin Earnst of Foxborough, who said the scope of the project has been changed and expanded from what was first proposed, and worried that social issues including problem gambling and drunken driving would be a problem.

“This will change the character of the whole area,” she said.

Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen P. Crosby said the Legislature took that into consideration when writing the law, stipulating that $15 million to $20 million be set aside from gaming revenue to be used on programs to address social impacts of the casinos.

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at

Survey seeks opinions on Norfolk County judges

October 21, 2013 10:00 AM

DEDHAM, Mass. (AP) — The state’s highest court is sending questionnaires to attorneys and court employees in Norfolk County, seeking input on 35 judges as part of an ongoing program to evaluate judicial performance.

The Supreme Judicial Court’s survey covers several categories including a judge’s knowledge of the law, fairness and impartiality, temperament on the bench and treatment of litigants, witnesses, jurors and attorneys.

Lawyers who have appeared in court in the county over the last two years will receive questionnaires.

All questionnaires are confidential and do not ask for the names of the respondents. The resulting reports also will be confidential and are given only to the judge being evaluated and to the chief justices of their courts.

Questionnaires will be accepted by the SJC through mid-December.

Slots developers rush to make agreements with neighboring communities

October 17, 2013 02:30 PM

Having secured host community agreements and votes of approval, the three slots parlor applicants are reaching beyond the borders of the municipalities where they hope to locate and seeking to wrap up agreements with neighbors before the Massachusetts Gaming Commission awards the lone license.

Slots applicants in Raynham, Plainville and Leominster are each seeking to designate surrounding communities ahead of an Oct. 31 deadline, when municipalities can petition the commission for the status.

“The surrounding community schedule has always been the wild card,” Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby told reporters. He said, “Having the surrounding communities have a fair shot is more important than meeting our deadlines.”

After Oct. 31, the commission can take an indeterminate amount of time to decide whether a nearby city or town qualifies as a surrounding community, Crosby said. A designation would trigger a 30-day negotiating period, and if that period expires without an agreement, the commission would begin a 30-day period of binding arbitration.

Cordish Companies, seeking to build a slot parlor in Leominster, has entered negotiations with seven municipalities that want surrounding community agreements, and has heard from an eighth. Cordish President Joe Weinberg said he did not believe there would be any impact in the neighboring communities.

“While we don’t believe we’re going to have impacts on our neighboring communities we would rather work cooperatively with our neighbors,” Weinberg told the commission Thursday. He declined to disclose the identities of the communities to the News Service and said none have yet received the official designation.

Penn National Gaming, hoping to build on the Plainridge Racecourse in Plainville, has designated Wrentham, Foxborough, Mansfield and North Attleboro as surrounding communities. Plainville also borders Rhode Island.

Wynn Resorts had originally sought to build a casino in Foxborough before local elections of anti-casino selectmen convinced the company to look elsewhere. Penn officials said Foxborough leaders are primarily concerned with problem gaming, while Wrentham worries about public safety needs and North Attleboro is focused on traffic.

Penn National Vice President of Public Affairs Eric Shippers told the commission that it would calculate the “net negative” effects of a slots parlor, determining “how everyone has benefitted on the up-side” as it seeks to “weigh the good and potential bad.”

Parx Raynham, a venture between Greenwood Racing and the former Raynham Park dog track, has designated Easton and Taunton as surrounding communities and has had some contact with a total of 10 nearby communities.

“We may designate one or two,” said Greenwood official Tom Bonner, who said the company is “well advanced in negotiations with one of those two.”

Weinberg told the commission that development plans for the Leominster slots parlor include a police substation, and he said he doubts there would be a public safety draw from neighboring municipalities, though he said Cordish could pay communities if there are needs. The Cordish president told the News Service nearby police departments could send the company a bill.

All the applicants said they are making progress towards reaching agreements.

“It is very important that the surrounding communities have time to get their acts together, to get reasonable data that they can use to consider the issues, consider the impacts, and we will be sure that they get the time,” Crosby told reporters.

Plainridge, other applicants, make their arguments for slots parlor

October 7, 2013 05:45 PM

With the pot containing the state’s lone slots parlor license, three competitors on Monday pitched their geographic desirability, ability to fund and quickly construct a facility and past performance.

Penn National Gaming, seeking to develop the Plainridge Racecourse, said its proposal would preserve harness racing and the agriculture network that goes into that sport, while its Plainville location would “cut off” Bay Staters heading to Twin River in Rhode Island.

Parx Raynham highlighted the proposed South Coast Rail station next to its property, a former dog track that developers said could open the first phase of a slots parlor by next July.

Cordish Companies in Leominster said its location in north-central Massachusetts would give it some market exclusivity, while the company would be able to build a slots parlor without financing and contribute additional funds toward a medical devices business accelerator.

“We are going to have a very tough choice,” said Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby, after each of the three final applicants made their presentation Monday. He said the commission would make its decision by the end of December or the “first week or so of January.”

Salesmanship styles varied, with Penn and Cordish presenting videos of what the company could offer, while Parx introduced an array of vice presidents and consultants to make the case.

Cordish Chairman David Cordish said his proposal for Leominster would tap into a relatively uncrowded gaming market, help boost the economy in a “gateway city” and could be constructed without borrowing by a company that has “built more ground-up casinos with higher revenues” than about any other company in the country.

“I don’t want to quibble whether we’re one or two,” Cordish said.

George Carney, the long-time owner of Raynham Park who partnered with Greenwood Racing, said the first phase of the Parx Raynham slots parlor could be built by next July, and if Plainridge lost the license and closed he would plan to resume harness racing in Brockton.

“We can be open within six months of the commission’s decision,” said Greenwood CEO Anthony Ricci, who said the project includes a second phase with a new building, which would receive $125 million in financing from Credit Suisse.

Jay Snowden, the senior vice president of operations for Penn and a former Harvard starting quarterback, said the racino would tap into Penn’s loyalty program, partner with local businesses and host Doug Flutie’s Sports Pub, a venture by the former Boston College quarterback.

“We’ve been working with him on this concept for several months now,” said Snowden, who said the one-time Patriot’s backup QB would display his Heisman Trophy at the track for some of the year.

Each developer made overtures to green initiatives, with Parx saying it would commit to LEED Silver, Cordish discussing plans for wind and solar energy, and Penn sustaining the farms and trails that are part of the horse racing industry.

Cordish, which said it owns rights to the term “Live!” would additionally fund a UMass Lowell and UMass Worcester medical device company accelerator based off the M2D2 program.

On Thursday, the Gaming Commission voted to extend to Oct. 31 the deadline for slots applicants to submit agreements they have ironed out with surrounding communities.

Cordish President Joseph Weingberg said the Leominster proposal has the support of the closest community to the project.

Penn, which took over the racino proposal after cash-room withdrawals bounced Plainridge from applying on its own, has met with officials in Mansfield, Wrentham, Foxborough, North Attleboro.

Parx has designated Taunton and Easton as surrounding communities and is “close” with one, and made “good progress” with the other, a Parx attorney told the commission. Taunton has already worked out a host community agreement with the Mashpee Wampanoag, which hopes to build a Indian casino in the city.

Under the terms of a gaming compact, which is set to come up in the House on Wednesday, the Mashpee would owe less if a slots parlor opened in the southeast region. Taunton and Raynham border one another.

Gaming commission to hear three proposals for slots parlors on Monday

October 4, 2013 06:04 PM

Leominster, Plainville and Raynham could be home to the state’s lone slots license, as three gaming developers hoping to build in those communities submitted final applications to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission Friday.

The Gaming Commission will hear 90-minute presentations from the three entities seeking a slots license in the state on Monday.

After awarding a slots license in either December, January or February, the Gaming Commission plans to begin evaluating casino license applications with goal of awarding casino licenses in April.

Cordish Companies hopes to build a slots parlor in Leominster.

Raynham Park, which operated greyhound races until voters’ 2008 decision to outlaw dog racing went into effect, hopes to build a slots parlor on its site.

Penn National, which has seen its proposals drummed out of town in Tewksbury and passed over in Springfield, hopes to develop a slots parlor at Plainridge Racecourse, a harness horse racing track.

Plainridge had originally sought to develop a slots parlor on its own, but those plans were scrapped when the Gaming Commission ruled against the track’s suitability, following revelations that former track president Gary Piontkoski made personal cash withdrawals from the money room.

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