Milford, Mass., votes on Foxwoods casino plan today

While one of the southeastern Connecticut casinos vying for a Massachusetts gaming license awaited today's referendum vote in Milford, Mass., the other was said to have turned its attention to the Boston region after failing to win a vote in the western part of the state.

A hefty turnout was expected in Milford, where voters could endorse or defeat a $1 billion proposal backed by Foxwoods Resort Casino.

Mohegan Sun, meanwhile, did not immediately respond to a claim that it's negotiating with Suffolk Downs, the Boston-area race track that hopes to propose a casino in the city of Revere. Mohegan Sun lost a Nov. 5 referendum in Palmer, where it had proposed a $1 billion project. The referendum's 93-vote margin prompted requests for a recount, which has been scheduled for Nov. 26.

A coalition of citizen's groups in Palmer called for Mohegan Sun to respond to reports of its "active involvement" with Suffolk Downs.

Citizens were also highly engaged in Milford, where opponents of the Foxwoods Massachusetts project turned up the volume over the weekend.

"Our goal in these last hours before Tuesday's vote is to remind everyone in Milford of exactly what is truly at stake in this referendum - our quality of life here in Milford," John Seaver, co-chairman of Casino-Free Milford, said Sunday in a statement.

The group was critical of the partnership's 11th-hour announcement Friday that it had signed a letter of intent with Gaming and Leisure Properties Inc., a Penn National Gaming spinoff, to provide financing for the project. Operating as a real estate investment trust, Gaming and Leisure Properties would own the resort casino's real estate and lease it back to the casino operators.

The announcement came shortly after the Massachusetts Gaming Commission issued a finding of "conditional suitability" for the project partners, who until Friday lacked a majority owner.

Casino-Free Milford spokesmen said Foxwoods' belated financial arrangements raised questions about the partnership's trustworthiness. Over the weekend, the chairman of the town's Board of Selectmen, William Buckley, questioned the impact the arrangements might have on the Foxwoods group's "host community agreement" with Milford.

"From what I can gather in the press, it is no longer clear to me who the actual developer is in this project," Buckley wrote in a letter to town counsel. "If Foxwoods MA is simply the tenant of a building with land owned by GLPI then it would stand to reason that GLPI is responsible for the property taxes contained in the host community agreement."

Scott Butera, Foxwoods president and chief executive officer, responded Monday in a statement in which he said the terms of the host community agreement remain in place.

"Nothing in the agreement changes, no amendments are required, and all obligations remain exactly the same," Butera said. "There are no changes in the management structure proposed for the resort casino. Further, there is no operational conflict since GLPI is simply a financing source. This type of a sale lease back is a very conventional and traditional financing tool."

Under the host community agreement, the Foxwoods Massachusetts partnership would pay the town more than $33 million upfront and $35 million a year. The developers have also pledged to pay for more than $100 million worth of improvements to Interstate 495 in the vicinity of the proposed casino.

Milford has about 17,400 registered voters in eight precincts.

Suffolk Downs' owner, Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, has been seeking a partner to operate its proposed casino since severing ties with Caesars Entertainment, its original partner on a project that would have straddled the East Boston-Revere line. While Revere voters approved the project Nov. 5, East Boston voters rejected it.

Mohegan Sun would seem to be an attractive partner given that the gaming commission has deemed it "suitable" to pursue a casino license. Hard Rock International, which lost a referendum on a casino project it proposed in West Springfield, also is said to be negotiating with Suffolk Downs, as are other operators.

"We have received strong interest in potential partnerships from a number of top-class gaming companies," Sterling Suffolk wrote last week in a letter to the gaming commission.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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