EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 18, 2013

Casino eyed in Andover's backyard

Proposal to bring 1,250 slots to Tewksbury faces opposition

By Dustin Luca

---- — ANDOVER — A 1,250-slot casino proposed on the Tewksbury border is drawing some stiff opposition from local and state officials and residents in neighboring Andover.

The proposal by Pennsylvania-based Penn National Gaming — which goes before Tewksbury selectmen for a possible vote tonight — aims to build a slots-only casino on a 30-acre lot at 300 Ames Pond Road off Lowell Street (Route 133) directly at the Andover town line.

Tonight’s meeting, which starts at 7 in Tewksbury Town Hall, continues a discussion between that town’s selectmen and representatives of Penn that began on Tuesday.

The proposed $200 million complex, which would be called Hollywood Casino, would generate $3 million in tax revenue annually for the town of Tewksbury, according to the project’s website.

In addition to the casino, which would operate around-the-clock seven days a week, the complex would include multiple dining options, bar and lounge offerings and free parking and employ. A hotel is also identified on one section of the website. The development would create 1,000 construction jobs and once completed, would employ about 500 people and draw business from across the state.

Andover town officials learned of the proposal last week after Town Manager Reginald “Buzz” Stapczynski received a courtesy call from Tewksbury’s manager, Richard Montuori, according to Andover Board of Selectmen Chairman Alex Vispoli.

Vispoli, who attended Tuesday night’s Tewksbury selectmen’s meeting to learn more about the plans, said he is “strongly opposed” to the proposal. He said he has also heard from several Andover residents who have voiced “serious concerns about traffic, safety, crime, noise essentially redefining the region.”

State Sen. Barry Finegold, an Andover resident who also represents Tewksbury, also registered his opposition.

“I’ve always been against extended gaming, and whether it’s in my district or outside the district, I don’t think it’s a good idea,” he said.

Eric Schippers, senior vice president of public affairs at Penn, said the vacant Ames Pond Road site, which overlooks Ames Pond, abuts a number of Andover residences, including homes on Cardigan Road, Jordyn Lane and Brown Street. He said the property, which is zoned heavy industrial, was targeted by Penn because of its proximity to the adjacent Route 495 interchange.

While the company has not yet had any interaction with Andover officials, state law would require Penn to work with Andover leaders if the project was to move forward, Schippers said.

“We want to be in a community where we’re wanted. We view this as a partnership with a community, so one of the things we’re doing in addition to our education efforts is trying to address concerns,” Schippers said.

The vote scheduled for tonight is just the first of “a number of boxes that still have to be checked” for the project to proceed, he said.

If Tewksbury selectmen approve the proposal, it would then go to its Town Meeting for approval. From there, a town ballot vote is required.

Then, Penn would need to win a state license to operate the casino, Schippers said. To date, Penn is one of five companies competing for a lone slots-only casino license to be issued by the state.

The process is moving very fast because of the tight deadline imposed by the state’s licensing process, according to Schippers. With a license filing deadline of Oct. 4 looming, the company is hoping to win Tewksbury selectmen’s approval of a host agreement at tonight’s meeting, he said.

Through the host agreement, Tewksbury officials would outline what the company must do to protect its residents from the impact of a casino.

Penn originally pursued a resort casino in downtown Springfield, but faced competition within the city from a rival MGM project. That city held its own competition, eliminating Penn in April.

Town officials in Salisbury turned down a similar slots-only casino earlier this month. In that proposal, a Baltimore-based company aimed to build a 120,000-square-foot casino operating 1,250 slot machines, three restaurants, a theater and five-story garage on an 11-acre lot.

Penn National Gaming owns, operates or has ownership interests in gaming and racing facilities with a focus on slot machine entertainment. The company presently operates 28 facilities in 18 jurisdictions, including Bangor, Maine, as well as Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, West Virginia and Ontario.

The meeting for Hollywood Casino will be held at 7 p.m. in the selectmen’s meeting room at Tewksbury Town Hall, 1009 Main St. For more on the project, visit www.hollywoodcasinotewksbury.com.