New Massachusetts racino proposal likely dead on arrival


massachusetts-wareham-casino-racino-proposalA new casino proposal for southeastern Massachusetts faces long odds to become a reality, but its connection to the dying sport of kings means it will likely at least get a look-see from the powers that be.

On Tuesday, developer Thomas O’Connell and his Notos Group partnership announced plans to build a $300m racetrack and casino on a 275-acre plot of land in Wareham, a town of 22k people in Plymouth County.

O’Connell’s vision of ‘Wareham Park’ includes a slot machine parlor with various non-gaming amenities, a one-mile thoroughbred racetrack, a 171-room hotel and a ballpark for the local Cape Cod League baseball team, as well as other sports facilities.

Massachusetts has been without a proper racetrack ever since the company behind Suffolk Downs lost its bid to build the Boston-area casino in 2014 and pared down its live racing activities to the odd weekend-long meeting. Even that meagre offering came to a halt in June, although the company has floated plans to refurbish another property in the state for racing purposes.

O’Connell said Tuesday that his proposal was “not your father’s racetrack,” but the sorry state of US racing means convincing a younger clientele to traipse through the gates may prove tougher than simply crafting a catchy slogan. Then again, the racing sector holds a strangely hypnotic power over state and federal officials, so the neigh-sayers can’t immediately be dismissed.

O’Connell’s longshot bid would require both local rezoning and for Massachusetts legislators to revise their 2011 gaming legislation, which called for a maximum of three resort casinos plus one slots parlor.

As of this summer, two casinos and the slots hall are already functioning, while the third casino was supposed to be reserved for a federally recognized Indian tribe (two of which are vying for the opportunity but neither can get their act together).

O’Connell told reporters that he would lobby state legislators to amend the gaming law to allow the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) the latitude to issue a second slots parlor license rather than a third full-on casino.

O’Connell said “the market has changed since the casino law was written” and it was unlikely that the state could support a third resort casino given the “destabilization and cannibalization of the existing license holders” that would result.

However, the MGC is reportedly reticent to consider another commercial casino project in the off chance that either the Mashpee Wampanoag or Aquinnah Wampanoag tribes eventually secure the federal land approval to move forward with their respective casino projects. The MGC is also reportedly dealing with a request from Mass Gaming & Entertainment (MGE) to reconsider its proposal to build a full-on casino in Brockton.