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Massachusetts to consider Wareham Park racino proposal

Massachusetts gambling news

Massachusetts gambling news

There is a new proposal for a casino and racetrack, among other things, in southern Massachusetts, but it remains to be seen if it will come to fruition. Horse racing is legal in Massachusetts but has not had a major presence there in several years, while there are several zoning and legislative issues that could prevent the project from moving ahead.

Recently, the Notos Group partnership, led by developer Thomas O’Connell, unveiled plans for a racetrack and casino, which will cost upwards of $300 million. It will be built on a plot of land of 275 acres in the Plymouth County town of Wareham, which has a population of 22,000.

O’Connell has a vision of the complex, which has the unofficial title of Wareham Park, that will have a gaming parlor with slot machines and other amenities, a hotel with over 170 rooms, a baseball park, a thoroughbred racetrack, and other facilities for sports.

The proposed project would give the community an influx of money and jobs. There would not only be a boost of up to $50 million to the state and $5 million in annual revenue for Wareham, but over 1,000 permanent jobs and also over 1,000 construction jobs for the building of the complex. Not only that, but it will give a boost to the Massachusetts thoroughbred industry, which has been struggling for several years.

The proposal would also bring another casino to the state, or at least a slots and gaming parlor, and while it has not been specifically mentioned, sports betting may be available if Massachusetts joins neighbouring New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island in legalizing the practice.

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There has not been a major racetrack in Massachusetts since Sterling Suffolk Racecourse LLC – the company that backed Suffolk Downs – failed in their bid to construct a new track in 2014 in the greater Boston area. There was a handful of races at Suffolk Downs in the last few years in the summer, but the last race was held in June of 2019 and that brought about the end of New England’s last thoroughbred horse track. The company has tried to keep the plans alive for a racetrack, but at another location.

Recently, O’Connell stated that the proposed track is “not your father’s racetrack”. However, horse racing in the United States is in a big downturn and it may be hard to convince people to visit the track for betting purposes if it does not host any major races.

There are several hurdles to clear before the proposal moves any further. Zoning is an issue, while Massachusetts legislators will have to change the gaming laws of 2011 that restricted the state’s allowance of gaming licenses to three casino resorts and one slots parlor. As of August 2019, there are already two casinos in the state, as well as one slots parlor, and a third casino is set aside for an Indian tribe. The tribe would have to be federally recognized and there are currently two tribes – Mashpee Wampanoag and Aquinnah Wampanoag – vying for the permit. O’Connell said that his aim is to change the gaming law so the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) can award his company a license for a second slots parlor in the state.

The destabilization is the existing casino license holders would make it unlikely that a third casino in Massachusetts would be built. This is why he is gunning for amending the legislation for only one slots parlor in the state. O’Connell said that “the market has changed since the casino law was written”.

Still, there has been hesitation by the MGC to give the thumbs up to an additional casino proposal since one of the two tribes mentioned would get federal land and move on with their plans of building a casino. On top of this issue there is also a proposal to construct a casino in Brockton, so there is a long way to go before O’Connell’s dream becomes a reality.

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