By Matthew Robare
Saugus Town Manager Scott Crabtree has urged the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to recognize the town as a “surrounding community” in the event that a casino is built at Suffolk Downs. In a letter to the commission, he outlined concerns about increased traffic on Route One and loss of business to Saugus retail establishments as people start spending their money in the vicinity of the casino.
The commission defines a surrounding community on its website as “A municipality in proximity to a host community that the Commission determines experiences or is likely to experience impacts from the development or operation of a gaming establishment.”
“Saugus wants to stay on top of this,” Crabtree said. “The concern I have for the town and the businesses is that the establishment of the Suffolk Downs casino could have a significant effect on the hospitality industry on Route One. That is what supports the meals tax and the real estate tax revenue.”
Although the commission has funds available to study potential impacts, Crabtree said that the town wouldn’t be applying for any of the grants. “They’ve done some impact studies,” he said.
Nichole DiModica, of the Saugus Chamber of Commerce, said that they would remain neutral on the subject of a casino.
“Whether it would prove positive or negative remains to be seen,” she said. “It does make sense that we would be impacted. We’re a natural party.”
“I think there’s a potential for positive impacts, but for right now we need to look at worst-case scenarios and work out mitigation at this point,” Crabtree said.
The commission requires surrounding communities and gaming license applicants to develop agreements with each other, but reserves the right to designate some communities as being surrounding ones. According to the draft regulation, a town can be designated a surrounding community if there will be significant impacts on the traffic infrastructure, environment and impacts on public safety and business.
“I think that there are enough casinos in the country that there is some data we’d be able to review and analyze,” Crabtree said.
The Suffolk Downs proposal, according to news reports, would involve a hotel and a parking garage of up to 2500 cars, reducing the number of surface spots. The hotel and casino would be built in conjunction with Ceasar’s Entertainment and include up to 300 rooms, 10 restaurants and 200,000 square feet of gaming space. Suffolk Downs estimates that the development would generate about 2500 construction jobs and 4000 resort jobs, as well as contribute $150 million a year to the local economy.
In addition to Suffolk Downs, a company called Wynn Resorts wants to build a casino in Everett on the Mystic River. A third proposal has been made for Milford, but that’s quite a ways a way from Saugus.
“I think it’s a matter of being informed and being involved in the process and working with the legislature and working with the casino at regulating some of the circumstances,” Crabtree said. “I think that mitigation could be in many different ways. It’s too early to lay that out at this point. In the foremost you want to protect the residents, the community and the businesses from any negative impact. The first step is to identify what the impacts will be to those stakeholders.”