, Newburyport, MA

June 25, 2013

Selectmen delay vote on slots-only casino

Board to meet Monday in workshop before moving on to a decision


---- — SALISBURY — Selectmen will meet Monday in a 4:30 p.m. workshop to pursue whether they will enter into negotiations with a Maryland company that wants to bring a 12,500-square-foot, 1,250-machine, slots-only casino to Route 110 in town.

They will then meet at 7 p.m. that night in a formal selectmen’s meeting to decide “yea or nay” on pursuing the venture with the Cordish Companies, a 100-year-old, family-owned, Baltimore-based real estate development firm with 20 years of experience building and running gambling venues.

The decision came after an hour-plus presentation by Cordish representative Jeffrey Snyder, who told selectmen the company believes the proposed location on Bruce Arakelian’s land on Route 110 (Elm Street) is perfect for the development. The 11-acre lot, which is the site of the Sylvan Street Grille and Vision Max Theater complex, is not only large enough to hold such a facility and on a good-sized, state-owned secondary highway with available water and sewer, Snyder said, but its access to Interstates 495 and 95 makes it ideal to accommodate the traffic the 24/7 slot machine casino would generate.

Along with determining if gambling is right for Salisbury, selectmen are dealing with a short turnaround time. Although Snyder said he and Cordish believe in the strong potential of the Salisbury location, it wasn’t the company’s first choice. Other communities approached, like Boxborough, turned down Cordish.

The result is that given the deadlines imposed by the state’s Gaming Commission, selectmen and Cordish must work out all the particulars in a signed host agreement within the next five weeks in order to make the commission’s Oct. 4 application deadline.

In November of 2011, gambling casinos became legal in Massachusetts under a restrictive piece of legislation that allows three full casinos with slot machines and table games and only one slots-only casino. Four companies, including Cordish, paid $400,000 to get into the mix to partner with a community for the right to build and run the slot parlor venue, Snyder said. The law requires that the gaming company partner with the host community of its choice, producing an extensive contract that works out all the details and responsibilities for the slot casino.

For example, the one such agreement that’s been signed is with the community of Raynham and Raynham Park, the site of a former greyhound dog racing track. In the hosting agreement, Raynham would receive $1 million a year for the first three years with a 2.5 percent increase in subsequent years, as well as receive other payments for infrastructure; local vendors would be hired and Raynham residents would be given preference in hiring.

Should Salisbury selectmen decide to negotiate and sign such an agreement with Cordish, it should be completed by July 25, Snyder said, so the next phase of the state-required approval process — a voter referendum — can take place by Oct. 1. The host agreement must be completed and advertised no later than 60 days prior to the referendum, which means selectmen must call the referendum no later than Aug. 1.

If voters approve the referendum, it would be filed with the state gaming commission on Oct. 4, along with all other proposals, for the commission to decide which proposal wins.

With so many issues to work out, selectmen felt they could not vote yes or no on entering into negotiations with Cordish last night, and decided to meet in a workshop first, to get more answers to their questions, before making the decision to move toward bringing legalized gambling to town.