Foxwoods' Fall River plan might not be only casino in that region

Foxwoods' interest in developing a commercial casino in Fall River, Mass., raises the seemingly remote possibility that two casinos - one commercial, one owned and operated by an Indian tribe - could be built in southeastern Massachusetts.

The scenario surfaced Tuesday in connection with the Foxwoods Massachusetts partnership's announcement that it is searching for a suitable site for a $750 million resort casino in Fall River, a city between Providence and Boston.

Could such a project conflict with the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe's pursuit of a federally regulated Indian casino in Taunton, another southeastern Massachusetts city?

"We're not competing against them," Scott Butera, Foxwoods Massachusetts' chief executive officer, said of the Mashpees. "There are ways (the Fall River and Taunton projects) can co-exist."

Butera, who is also president and CEO of the Mashantucket Pequots' Foxwoods Resort Casino, said it was for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to explain the possibilities.

Asked if the commission could conceivably issue two licenses for the southeastern region, a commission spokeswoman responded by email.

"That is difficult to answer right now," Elaine Driscoll wrote. "That is a distant possibility but not what the Commission intends."

She referred to a statement commission Chairman Stephen Crosby issued last May in regard to the commission's awarding of a casino license in southeastern Massachusetts. The Bay State's 2011 expanded-gambling law called for one license to be awarded in the region, with preference given to a federally recognized Indian tribe that would have to reach a gaming compact with the state and gain federal approval as well.

While the Mashpees have signed a compact with the state, the tribe, which has no reservation, has yet to have the U.S. Department of the Interior agree to take land into trust for a Taunton casino.

Amid delays in the process, the commission opened up the southeastern region to commercial bidders. KG Urban Enterprises has filed an application for a New Bedford casino.

A spokeswoman for the Mashpees said the tribe had no comment on Foxwoods' interest in pursuing a Fall River project.

Foxwoods' belated involvement in the southeastern region comes after it failed to win local voters' support for a $1 billion casino project it proposed in Milford, which is in the Greater Boston region.

Butera said that while Foxwoods' Fall River plan is smaller than the one proposed for Milford, it would incorporate many of the same features.

"Fall River and Milford are not that far apart," he said. "We designed (the Milford proposal) with the history and culture of New England in mind. (The Fall River project) would be very similar."

Once it secures a site, the Foxwoods partnership would have to negotiate a "host community agreement" with Fall River officials and then win a referendum on the deal.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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