New Bedford Casino Plan Easily Approved by Voters

Posted on: June 24, 2015, 01:21h. 

Last updated on: June 24, 2015, 01:21h.

New Bedford casino vote Massachusetts
New Bedford easily approved a proposal to build a casino on the city’s waterfront. (Image: Kostow Greenwood Architects LLP)

New Bedford voters overwhelmingly showed approval for a casino in their city, moving the proposal by developer KG Urban into the mix for the final casino license in Massachusetts.

Nearly three quarters of the voters who turned out said yes to the plan, which would place a new $650 million casino on the city’s waterfront.

When the final voters were tallied, 73 percent of voters were in favor of the plan, while 27 percent said they were against having a casino in the city. Turnout was a modest 21 percent, with more than 11,000 votes cast.

“Obviously, we are very pleased,” said New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell. “This is validation from the voters that the deal we got is a good one for the city. We look forward to competing for the license and returning New Bedford to its status as one of the leading cities in the Northeast.”

New Bedford Has Shown Strong Casino Support

The result of the vote was somewhat predictable, as New Bedford had twice previously voted in favor of casino gambling in the past two decades.

The public meetings held on the issue were largely held without incident, and there didn’t appear to be a strong anti-casino movement like the ones seen in many other towns and cities across Massachusetts over the past few years.

The KG Urban casino, which would be operated by Foxwoods, will now have to compete for the one license set aside for Southeastern Massachusetts.

There is one other proposal that has also received local approval: a similarly-sized resort that would be built in Brockton.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission could choose to award a license to either project, or potentially award no license at all.

However, some of the commission’s recent actions might show a preference for the New Bedford project.

KG Urban initially missed key deadlines for the casino process, but by talking to the commission, was able to secure extensions for key applications.

In contrast, the Brockton proposal met all of its deadlines without any help from state officials.

Multiple Bidders Could Benefit State

But that help may have been about something more fundamental than helping KG Urban specifically.

Having multiple bidders for the license may lead to the two bidders competing to make the best proposal, and allow cities and the state gaming commission to reach a deal that is better for the host communities and Massachusetts than if there was just a single proposal to choose from.

New Bedford’s biggest leg up may be the ease with which local voters approved the casino project.

Community support is part of the criteria looked at by the gaming commission when awarding licenses, and Brockton only barely approved their casino proposal, with just 50.5 percent of voters supporting the plan.

The Brockton proposal would place a casino at the Brockton Fairgrounds. A third proposal in Somerset has yet to have a vote scheduled despite receiving extensions along with New Bedford.

The Tuesday vote was just one part of a busy week for the nascent Massachusetts casino industry.

On Wednesday, the Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville will open for business; the slots parlor will feature 1,250 machines, including not only slots but also electronic versions of some table games, including blackjack.