EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 21, 2009

Developer's vision for The Rock hasn't changed

Presents his plans to state group yesterday

By Jarret Bencks

CONCORD — It's been four years since he bought a stake in Rockingham Park with the hope of someday remaking the park around video slot machines, but Bill Wortman's vision of a renovation hasn't changed.

Wortman, co-owner of Millennium Gaming, was one of several people who presented expanded gambling proposals to the governor's Gaming Study Commission yesterday. Wortman owns 20 percent of Rockingham Park himself and his company holds an option to buy the park.

His presentation outlined a plan that has stayed the same since it was publicized last December. That plan includes a $450 million, two-phase renovation to Rockingham Park, which would include up to 5,000 slot machines, a return to thoroughbred horse racing, and generate more than 2,000 jobs in the area, Wortman said.

Millennium operates three small casinos in Las Vegas and a racetrack with slot machines in Pennsylvania.

Wortman said the economy hasn't deterred Millennium's interest in renovating Rockingham Park, which he said he believes is one of the best places anywhere for expanded gambling.

"We think Rockingham Park is one of the best gaming opportunities in the country," Wortman said during a meeting with the press yesterday.

He wouldn't say how long his company's option to buy the park would last. He also wouldn't put a deadline on how long his company would remain in the debate to bring video lottery terminals, commonly known as slot machines, to the state.

"We don't have any timeline in which we are not going to be here," he said. "We're going to be in this for the long run."

Wortman's presentation to the commission outlined job creation in the area, which his projection estimated at 1,000 direct jobs and 1,400 indirect jobs.

Revenue at the park would change significantly if Massachusetts opened casinos.

Matthew Landry, vice president of The Innovation Group, a company hired by Millennium to create revenue projections, said with an estimated tax of 40 percent, with another 9 percent going to government agencies, state revenue would be about $205 million annually without competition south of the border. That revenue projection would drop to about $141 million if Massachusetts opened three casinos.

Wortman said beating Massachusetts to slots would be "helpful," but if it didn't happen it would not change his plans for The Rock.

Rockingham Park was one of five venues that would have benefited from legislation included in the state's budget that passed the Senate last year before being removed in a joint committee. It would have allowed slots at the state's two dog tracks, Rockingham Park and two locations in the North Country.

The Gaming Study Commission heard presentations outlining plans for those venues yesterday afternoon, along with some alternatives.

Robert Claig, a former Republican state senator from Hudson, and Dr. Clyde Barrow of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth presented a plan to spend $300 million to convert the Green Meadow Golf Course in Hudson into a casino resort. That proposal includes slots, restaurants, a theater, convention center and the golf course.

The proposal differs from others and clashes with past legislation because it includes table games, with the state getting a piece of the revenue. New Hampshire allows table games as long as a portion of the revenue goes to local charities.

Barrow told the commission the project could be done along with the five others proposed in other legislation.

"We're a long way from a saturated market," he said.

James Rafferty of New Hampshire Charitable Gaming spoke about a small-scale slot project he has proposed in Berlin. He wants to restore the Alfred Theatre in Berlin and build a new space for video slots and a restaurant in an abandoned lot across the street. The project would begin with 250 video slot terminals and peak at 1,000, he said. He cast the proposal as a downtown reclamation project that would bring the area jobs it desperately needs.

"This is one of the places in New Hampshire that needs some help," he said.

Rafferty owns The River House, a card room in Milford. He said he chose Milford after Nashua turned him down. He said he was skeptical that a project like the proposed casino resort in Hudson would ever gain enough steam to get local approval.

"They don't like gaming in Nashua," he said. "They wouldn't have me in Nashua."

The Gaming Study Commission will continue to meet until members turn in an interim report to the governor on Dec. 15. Public meetings are expected to be held around the state, beginning in January.

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