Partners in the Mohegan Sun Massachusetts casino project passed muster Thursday with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which deemed them "suitable" to proceed with their plan to develop a $1 billion resort in the town of Palmer.
The partnership became the first to secure a "positive determination" from the commission, whose Investigations and Enforcement Bureau is vetting the "character, honesty, integrity and financial stability" of the corporations and individuals vying for the Bay State's first casino licenses. State police are helping conduct the background checks.
At a public hearing in Boston, the five commission members voted unanimously to approve the bureau's recommendation that Mohegan Sun Massachusetts be approved. Live video of the hearing was aired on the commission's website.
Appearing before the panel, Mitchell Etess, chief executive officer of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, said Brigade Capital Management, Mohegan Sun's financial partner in the project, would provide 60 percent of the necessary funding while MTGA would provide the remaining 40 percent.
Commission members asked about MTGA's experience in running commercial gaming facilities as opposed to Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, the Mohegan Tribe's flagship property, which operates under laws regulating tribally owned casinos. Mohegan Sun Massachusetts would be a commercial operation.
Etess said the MTGA prides itself on its transparency and has long operated much like a public company. MTGA officials, he said, have secured gaming licenses and run successful commercial casinos in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and is pursuing them elsewhere.
Patrick Kelly, Brigade's CEO, said his firm manages more than $13 billion in assets and has a "diverse investor base" that includes some 450 entities, including about 150 pension funds. He said Brigade was prepared to commit more capital to the Palmer project in the future, if necessary.
If voters in Palmer approve the casino project in a Nov. 5 referendum, Mohegan Sun Massachusetts is expected to file a final application with the commission by Dec. 31. It would likely have to compete with Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts International for the sole casino license the commission will award for western Massachusetts. MGM has proposed a Springfield casino.
The commission is expected to award the license by April 2014.