MILFORD, Mass. (AP) -- A large turnout was expected in Milford on Tuesday for a referendum on a proposed $1 billion resort casino that would be built off Interstate 495.
Town officials predicted that as many as 75 percent of registered voters might weigh in on the plan offered by Crossroads Massachusetts, a group led by Connecticut casino operator Foxwoods. At midday, the Milford Daily News reported steady lines at polling places.
The vote is the last in a series of gambling referendums held this year in communities around the state. While several projects have been given the green light, voters in East Boston and Palmer said no to would-be casino developers on Nov. 5 and West Springfield voters turned thumbs down on a resort casino proposal in September.
In Milford, a town of about 25,000, casino opponents warn of lower property values, increased traffic and crime, and strains on the town's water supply.
"Milford is a small suburban town, and it's just not set up or capable of handling a huge casino like this," said John Seaver, co-chair of the group Casino-Free Milford.
Casino backers point to a host community agreement signed with the town that promises $32 million in upfront money and $31 million in annual payments if the casino is built, including $25 million in annual property taxes. They say the funds would help lower residential property taxes and go toward improving schools.
Michael Kaplan, chairman of the pro-casino group Citizens for Milford's future, said the thousands of jobs that would be created by a casino could be of particular benefit to immigrants who have recently settled in the community.
"A lot of the jobs that are going to be offered are going to be able to help those groups," said Kaplan.
Supporters also contend that opponents' predictions of traffic gridlock are overstated and point to Foxwoods' promise to build a feeder road connecting I-495 to Route 16.
Even with a favorable vote Tuesday, the company would still need a two-thirds vote of a town meeting in December to approve a zoning change required for a casino at the proposed site.
It was revealed at a Massachusetts Gaming Commission hearing last week that Crossroads, which hopes to compete for the sole eastern Massachusetts resort casino license, had failed to secure 55 percent of the equity financing it needed for the Milford project. The commission later issued a conditional finding of suitability for the company, with a key condition being that it line up the additional financing well before the state's Dec. 31 deadline for final casino applications.
Late Friday, Crossroads announced a financing deal with Gaming and Leisure Properties Inc., a firm spun off from Penn National Gaming, which is bidding to operate a slots parlor at the Plainridge harness race track in Plainville.
Critics said Crossroads was not forthcoming about its financial status.
"We had no idea that they didn't have 55 percent of their equity partners lined up," said Seaver. "To me that was a deception."
Kaplan dismissed the financing issue as a "red herring" and also said he did not believe that votes against casino projects in other parts of the state would influence Milford voters. He said voters might be more willing to back the project if they believed that fewer competitors would give it a better chance of winning the license the gambling commission may award next year.
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