Do people in Milford want a resort casino on the edge of town? If the proposal by David Nunes and Warner Gaming advances past an initial state review, town residents may eventually decide that question.
The application by Nunes and his development partner for a resort casino license is now before the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. By next week, commissioners said Thursday, the application could be ready to turn over to a team that will look into the developers' financial and regulatory history.
Several casino applications in Massachusetts arrived before the Tuesday deadline and background investigations have already begun. By next week, the remaining applications could be ready for this phase, which is expected to take as much as six months. At least two other casino projects are targeting the single license available for a resort casino in greater Boston. In addition, two more developers have submitted applications, but have not yet said whether they are seeking a resort casino license, or a slots parlor approval, and also have not identified a region.
By the time the investigations are completed, the Commission plans to have in place a set of regulations for developers to follow in approaching host communities and surrounding towns. The application for this phase of the casino development process has not yet begun.
Unlike some other communities, the feelings toward a casino in Milford appear mixed. A group based in neighboring Holliston, Casino Free Milford, is preparing to work with any local group that forms, one of its founders said, but he wasn't aware of any group yet in Milford.
Like many, Ken Rockett, a spokesman for Casino Free Milford, said he wasn't really expecting an application from Nunes, who has not been in contact with Milford officials in almost a year. The property being assembled by Nunes is on the edge of Milford, bordering Holliston, north of Route 16 and east of Interstate 495.
"We actually thought, as most people did, this was just going to go away," Rockett said.
An agreement signed in 2011 by two of the three Milford Selectmen with Nunes, agreeing to negotiate exclusively with him, and not other would-be casino developers, expired in late December.
The "Crossroads Massachusetts" casino application, introduced by Nunes and Warner Gaming on Tuesday, has not yet galvanized opposition, said Rockett, but he said he expected that could happen if the project passes the initial state review.
If the project moves ahead, only Milford residents will get to vote, by referendum, on the casino proposal, under the legislation approved in 2011.
But Holliston and Hopkinton and other surrounding towns could be considered "surrounding communities," under the legislation, which means they could qualify for state funds to evaluate the impacts.
Under the state legislation, surrounding communities also would have a hearing with the state Gaming Commission, which ultimately will grant a resort casino license to one applicant in the greater Boston area.
In Milford, reaction to the filing appears to be divided, with some people saying they favor it, as a possibility for more jobs or a strengthened tax base. Others have said it's a bad idea and will tarnish the town's image.
Selectmen, too, reacted differently to the filing.
Selectman Bill Buckley said he opposes a casino for the community, having reached a conclusion that it would not be beneficial because of so-called "secondary effects," including increased traffic, demand on water and other concerns.
The town shouldn't wait for the state to review the application, he said. If selectmen refuse to negotiate with the developer, that could end the project, he said.
"It's up to the community to speak loudly about what their wishes are," Buckley said. He said he would work with any local group that wants to stop the project. Buckley said over the past few years, since the project was suggested, he's had several conversations with people who oppose it.
"It ought to be stopped now, before this thing gains any momentum," Buckley said.
Selectmen Brian Murray and Dino DeBartolomeis both said they wanted to wait until the state had approved the Phase I application filed by the developer, and see what is proposed under the Phase II application, which is the site-specific plan.
The project at that point will be defined, said Murray, including the proposed size, contribution of taxes to the town, access for vehicles entering the casino, and other elements.
"At this point, it really is between him and the Gaming Commission," Murray said. "There is no project before us at this point. There's been conceptual discussion of a casino. There's really nothing to be for or against."
DeBartolomeis pointed out that the community has evaluated controversial developments in its recent past, including the Milford Power plant site off Depot Street.
"I'm not excited," DeBartolomeis said, of the project. "And I'm not afraid of it either. The process will be the public, the electorate, gets to vote on this, when all of the information is in."