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Foxwoods secures equity partner for Mass. casino project

By Brian Hallenbeck

Published November 15. 2013 4:00PM   Updated November 16. 2013 12:03AM

A spinoff of Penn National Gaming is willing to finance the $1 billion resort casino project a Foxwoods partnership has proposed building and operating off Interstate 495 in Milford, Mass.

Crossroads Massachusetts, as the partnership is now known, announced Friday night that it has signed a letter of intent with Gaming and Leisure Properties Inc., which would act as a real estate investment trust.

The announcement followed word that the Massachusetts Gaming Commission had deemed the project partners "suitable" to continue pursuing the Greater Boston casino license the commission is expected to award next year.

The commission's decision was based on the condition that the partners secure the necessary financing and meet other requirements.

"We are pleased that the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has decided, by unanimous vote, to issue a positive determination of suitability," Scott Butera, Foxwoods' president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. "As the determination states, we have now met our burden of proof with respect to our Phase 1 application. This, in conjunction with the financial support announced today with Gaming and Leisure Properties Inc., makes us very confident as we approach our referendum and the final stages of the application process."

The casino project, which would carry the Foxwoods name, goes before Milford voters in a binding referendum Tuesday. If a majority endorses the proposal, it would be subject to a two-thirds vote of town meeting members on Dec. 9. The town meeting would have to approve a zoning change for the project to go forward.

The gaming commission would ultimately choose among Crossroads and two other projects still in the running for the Greater Boston license.

Butera and other officials connected with the Crossroads/Foxwoods project appeared Wednesday before the gaming commission, which raised questions about the partners' lack of a majority owner. Investigators also flagged the proposed casino's management structure and the role to be played by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which owns Foxwoods.

The partnership was "within days" of an agreement with a 55 percent equity owner, Butera said at the time.

The commission, in a 10-page decision Friday, found all "qualifiers" involved in the project to be of good character.

"It is noteworthy that Scott Butera will play a critical role in this project," the commission wrote. "Mr. Butera's successes in the gaming industry are clear and impressive. Further, his efforts in coordinating the restructuring of the debt load of the Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise are laudable. The 'turnaround artist' moniker given him by others appears to be an apt title."

Butera would serve on a three-member board of managers that would direct Foxwoods Massachusetts LLC, a body formed to manage the casino. Rodney Butler, the Mashantucket tribal council chairman, and Crystal Whipple, the council's vice chairwoman-elect, would be the other two.

"The core issue is whether the 'wall' Foxwoods MA, LLC creates between the Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise (which is managed by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council) and the applicant's Massachusetts gaming operations is firm and unyielding," the commission wrote. "… It is critical that the 'wall' not be illusory."

The commission also considered the criminal histories of three other tribal members who would have no direct financial interest in, or control over, the project.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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