Casino Interests Try to Take Advantage of $100 Million State Infrastructure Investments

William Flanagan

For 10 years now officials in Fall River have lobbied the state to invest in the development of a biotechnology park in the area – the SouthCoast BioPark. And over the past few years the state has invested about $70 million dollars on road improvements for the industrial park, including a new highway ramp off Route 24.

Meanwhile in the background casino interests have been working to build support among local officials to turn SouthCoast BioPark into a resort casino. By “working” I mean making campaign contributions to Fall River mayor William Flanagan.

Then yesterday, the Wompanoag Indian tribe unveiled a plan to build a resort casino on the site and is receiving support from Flanagan. The Wompanoags of course are just a front for the real investors, Kien Huat Realty, a Malaysian gambling concern, who financed the development of Foxwoods Resort and Casino.

As Kathleen Conley Norbut,  president of Stop the Slots, and anti-casino citizen group explained:

“The tribes are used as a front to get a foothold by wealthy billionaire foreign investors so they can extract monies out of local economies.”

Kien Huat Realty’s original plan was to invest $1 billion on a complex in Middleboro. At $500 million, the Fall River proposal saves them a cool half billion, and they get the road infrastructure for free.

Biotech is Better than Casinos

A rendering of the proposed Fall River casino complex

A biotech park is a sensible investment for the state. Bio-technology is a growth industry in Massachusetts and a cornerstone of the kind of high technology industry that Massachusetts has always excelled at. Biotech companies make products which are sold worldwide, so their economic activity brings money into the state from outside.

Casinos siphon money from the local economy, and while they provide some low wage jobs, most of the money is exported to out of state gambling interests. In this case a lot of that money will flow out of the country to Malaysia.

Consider the deal that Kien Huat Realty struck in building Foxwoods. They provided loans for about $235 million, in exchange they get 10% of net income from Foxwoods until 2018. Foxwoods gross revenues are about $1 billion per year – so Kien Huat alone is sucking $100 million per year out of Connecticut.

For this reason the state is willing to pay for infrastructure investment to some economic sectors and not others. It takes state investment to attract high value bio-technology jobs. According to Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Gregory Bialecki casino interests will come even without state investment:

“Casinos will come and, in fact, they will pay millions of dollars for the privilege.”

After all it’s a license to suck money out of state.

Patrick Administration Objects to Repurposing SouthCoast BioPark

The state originally sold the 300-acre site to Fall River and invested in the road improvements  specifically for a biotechnology park. In fact, in 2002, the state put in a restriction that the parcel could not be used for a casino.

So now the Patrick administration is demanding that if the site does indeed get used for a casino, that the developers re-imburse the state $35 million for part of the cost of the Route 24 off ramp.

“It is our expectation that, if this property is the site of a casino, then the casino proponents would reimburse us for that because the governor’s view, as expressed in his own gaming bill earlier, was that any needed public infrastructure upgrades to support a casino facility should be borne by the developers, proponents,” said Bialecki.

The Malaysian casino developers are, of course, refusing to pay for the improvements arguing that the ramp would benefit other property owners, not just the casino.

Tim Cahill, a candidate funded largely by gambling interests, has unsurprisingly defended the casino plan, and their attempt to shirk paying for even part of the infrastructure improvements:

“The governor shouldn’t be picking and choosing employment sectors when every single job is important.”

When your three million dollar campaign warchest was paid for by the gambling business, you have to be there when they call you.

And as for the legal restriction on using the site for a casino? According to Wompanoag tribe spokesman Joe Ganley, it’s just one of “several legal hurdles”:

“We are confident that if the city of Fall River wants to develop a casino on the site, the restriction will be lifted.’’

Flooding legislators with campaign contributions will give you that kind of confidence.

The Fate of UMass Biotech Research Facility

The casino proposal may yet produce another casualty. The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth was planning to build a biotechnology research facility near the site, which the state had already committed $15 million to develop. But it makes not sense to build it next to a casino.

In a letter University Chancellor Jean MacCormack said:

“The City’s decision to abandon development of a BioPark in favor of a resort casino profoundly affects the university’s decision-making about a suitable location for our facility. Any delay in starting the project triggers a risk that state funding might be rescinded, so timing is important.’’

The $47 Million Parking Garage Next to Wonderland in Revere

Now that the state is asking for its infrastructure money back in Fall River, people are asking if perhaps the state should be reimbursed for a $47 million 1,900 car parking garage being build near the Wonderland  Suffolk Downs race track.

It seems like quite a fortuitous windfall for Suffolk Downs. Lets connect the dots. Robert DeLeo is the Speaker of the House. He is the main driver of the casino bill. Without him the bill would have been defeated by a wide margin, as it was when anti-casino speaker DiMasi was in  charge. Suffolk Downs is in DeLeo’s district, and DeLeo’s family has long connections at Suffolk Downs. DeLeo’s father spent a lifetime working there. And DeLeo, like nearly all legislators who support the gambling bill received a lot of contributions from gambling lobbyists. In DeLeo’s case – from Suffolk Downs.

Central to DeLeo’s gambling bill is allowing race tracks like Suffolk downs to expand into full service casinos with slot machines.

Locals have lobbied the state to develop a parking garage at the Wonderland T station for many years. And suddenly when a casino expansion is in the offing, and in the middle of brutal budget cuts the state finds money to build the garage -one might think that the speaker was thinking of how it would help a particular nearby business.

In the normal course of things, if a casino was licensed at Wonderland, the casino developers would have been charged for infrastructure improvements related to the expansion. The Patrick administration may now look into the way the funding was appropriated and consider demanding that Suffolk Downs pay at least part of the cost of the garage.


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