Mohegan partners face 'suitability' hearing

Investigators who looked into the backgrounds of those involved in Mohegan Sun's bid to develop a $1 billion resort casino in Palmer, Mass., are ready to report their findings to the Bay State's gaming commission.

A "suitability" hearing is set for 9:30 a.m. Thursday in Room 109A of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. It will be live-streamed on the commission's website.

It's anticipated that the commission will vote on the matter Thursday, according to Elaine Driscoll, the commission's director of communications.

Under Massachusetts' 2011 expanded-gambling law, applicants for gaming licenses are required to meet "high standards for good character, honesty, integrity and financial suitability."

The law specifies that if the commission's Investigations and Enforcement Bureau recommends "an unconditional positive determination without findings of fact that are contested by the applicant," the commission can review the bureau's report at a public hearing.

"We utilize an 'adjudicatory hearing' when we require a more formal process due to more complex subject matter," Driscoll said. "... An adjudicatory hearing provides the ability for the commissioners to deliberate in private and then issue a written decision. That is not the process that they plan to use for Mohegan."

Mohegan Sun officials received a draft of the bureau's report last week and raised no objections to it, said Mitchell Etess, the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority's chief executive officer.

"They've conducted a really thorough investigation. We found it quite detailed," Etess said. "We were fully cooperative. We're proud of our record of transparency over the years."

Mohegan Sun officials have been similarly vetted in connection with projects they've pursued in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and other jurisdictions, said Etess, who expects to attend the hearing along with a representative of Brigade Capital Management, Mohegan Sun's financial partner.

Mohegan Sun, whose Palmer project calls for two hotels, a 700,000-square-foot water park and 300,000 square feet of entertainment, dining and retail space, is vying with MGM Resorts International for the one casino license to be awarded for western Massachusetts; MGM has proposed a project for Springfield. Three other applicants, including Foxwoods Resort Casino, are competing for a separate license to be awarded for Greater Boston.

Of the five applicants for a casino license, Mohegan Sun is the first to face a suitability hearing. The Palmer project must also win the approval of voters in a townwide referendum scheduled Nov. 5.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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