EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

August 18, 2013

Cashing in

Economics play a big hand in casino vote

On the eve of a critical casino vote this week in Tewksbury, the lines have been clearly drawn.

On one side are those touting a boost to the local economy with the promise of an influx of jobs and revenue being brought to the region.

On the other is the increase in traffic and crime and the threat to quality of life and the well-being of the financially insecure that some believe are at stake.

Residents of the Merrimack Valley, this is the crux of the state’s Expanded Gaming Act as it prepares to play out on the Tewksbury-Andover line.

Since Penn National Gaming proposed its $200 million, 1,250-machine slots casino a little more than a month ago, the area’s state and local officials, residents and organizations have been scrambling to learn more about the proposal and its potential impact on the region.

Two questions have most dominated discussions: Why here and why so fast?

But with an Oct. 4 deadline looming for Penn to file its completed application for Merrimack Valley Casino to the state Massachusetts Gaming Commission for the one available slots license in the state, there’s no time for delay.

The first step in delivering a casino to the Merrimack Valley — a rezoning proposal for a 30-acre site on Ames Pond Drive — goes before Tewksbury residents at a special Town Meeting Tuesday night.

“(We’re) holding our breath, just waiting to see what happens on the 20th,” Dennis DiZoglio, executive director of the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, said last week.

The vote Tuesday “will be some kind of green light, in some fashion — or a red light, if the vote goes that way,” he said.

‘Destination’ uncertain

While several area business groups have elected to steer clear of the casino debate, one regional association believes the economic value is worth considering.

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