BOSTON (AP)- Mohegan Sun casino said Monday that it filed an application for a state license to build a casino in Palmer, drawing reaction from locals on both sides of the casino debate.
"Today, we take the next critical step in fulfilling our commitment to bringing new jobs and economic growth to the region," Mohegan Tribal Council chairman Bruce "Two Dogs" Bozsum said in an afternoon statement. "It's our intent to be the first casino to open its doors in Massachusetts."
Palmer Town Councilor-At-Large Paul Burns welcomed the news, saying Palmer had advantages over other proposed sites because of its more than 300 available acres.
He said in a statement there is strong community support in Palmer for the project, which could drive economic development in central and western Massachusetts and recapture market share "that no urban site could."
Jennifer Baruffaldi, spokeswoman for the Citizens for Jobs and Growth in Palmer, said members of the pro-casino group are applauding Mohegan Sun for moving forward with plans that could bring jobs and revenue to the town.
But members of Quaboag Valley Against Casinos said a casino could bring more traffic, divert business from local shops, and lure residents to gamble rent and grocery money.
"I don't believe there's as much support as Paul Burns says there is," Monson resident Emy Shepherd said.
The anti-casino group's co-president Iris Cardin said the organization will meet at an old schoolhouse in Palmer on Tuesday night to continue its fight against casino development. She called Palmer a cozy and family friendly community that could be ruined by a casino.
"It brings prostitutes. It brings in drugs," Cardin said. "This isn't Las Vegas."
The deadline for gambling interests to submit a first application in a two-phase process, including a $400,000 non-refundable fee, is 5 p.m. Tuesday. Mohegan Sun joins three other companies vying to open the state's only western Massachusetts casino. It struck a partnership with New York investment group Brigade Capital Management to bankroll the development.
The new casino project would feature gambling, a hotel, spa and retail stores and restaurants on land adjacent to the Massachusetts Turnpike, according to Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority CEO Mitchell Etess.
He said in a Monday phone interview that Mohegan's proposal will be better than its competition because the casino interest has been operating in New England market for 16 years and knows what casino customers want.
Mohegan's Connecticut casino is approximately 85 miles southeast of Palmer. The company also operates a gambling hall in Pennsylvania, Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs.
"We have instant brand awareness, instant customer awareness," Etess said.
Etess said Mohegan has been working to develop relationships in Palmer for more than three years, and despite filing just before Tuesday's deadline, has been working with Brigade Capital Management for "quite a while."
"Sometimes you need a deadline to get you to finish your term paper," he said.
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