BOSTON — New Bedford is all-in as it vies for the state's final gambling license.
Mayor Jon Mitchell and the developers proposing a $650 million waterfront casino announced a deal Thursday, prompting state regulators to grant the company until May 4 to secure financial commitments and other requirements for the first phase of the license competition. The deadline also applies to a competing proposal in the town of Somerset.
Monday had been the most recent deadline, but the New Bedford and Somerset developers had appealed for more time.
"The ink is literally not dry on this document," Mitchell said of the agreement signed just hours before the state Gaming Commission granted the time extension developers sought. "We're ready to go in New Bedford."
Regulators on Thursday debated whether the breakthrough was too little, too late. The commission has pushed back deadlines for months as the southeast region license failed to generate the same level of interest as gambling licenses already awarded in the state's western and eastern regions.
"It's the most challenging region. It has the least population and the least market potential," said Commissioner Enrique Zuniga. "It just feels like we've had this discussion a number of times. We can be back here in 45 days with the same request" for more time.
But the prospect of more competition for the license — not to mention investment and jobs in one of the most economically struggling cities in the state — eventually prevailed.
"I thought this was dead as a doornail," Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby said of the New Bedford proposal. "The fact that it happened is a huge change."
The agreement between New Bedford and the New York City-based KG Urban Enterprises calls for a $4.5 million upfront payment to the city, followed by $12.5 million in annual payments once it opens its doors.
It also calls for a projected $50 million environmental cleanup of the former power plant site, a $10 million harborwalk and the construction of a conference center and public marina.
The deal must go before city voters for approval in the coming months.
Mitchell said a key piece in negotiations was getting KG Urban to agree on major redesigns, including limiting the height of the hotel to 11 stories and its number of rooms to 300.
The developer also agreed to move a proposed hotel closer to the city's downtown to encourage casino patrons to visit the city's restaurants and bars, he said.
"It's important that we have spillover," Mitchell said. "It's important that we not be seen as a casino city."
The New Bedford development is among three plans vying for the southeastern casino license.
Crossroads Massachusetts, which is proposing a casino on town-owned land in Somerset, was also granted a May 4 extension, though commission members on Thursday expressed doubts about that project's viability.
"They're so far away, it can't possibly be put together," said Commissioner James McHugh.
Mass Gaming & Entertainment's initial application, meanwhile, has already been deemed "substantially complete."
The company, a subsidiary of the Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming, proposes a resort on the Brockton fairgrounds. Residents in that city are to vote on the proposal on May 12.
Massachusetts already has awarded resort casino licenses to MGM Resorts International for an $800 million casino in Springfield and to Wynn Resorts for a $1.7 billion casino in the Boston suburb of Everett.
Penn National Gaming has a slot parlor license for a $225 million slot facility in Plainville.
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