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Mass. town claims exclusion from casino talks

September 27, 2013

BOSTON (AP) — A Massachusetts town says its concerns about a proposed casino development in a neighboring community are being ignored by Mohegan Sun and state gambling regulators.

The complaints from the town of Monson echo those of other cities and towns near proposed casino sites that believe they have been excluded from direct negotiations with developers about traffic congestion, crime or other potential impacts.

Mohegan Sun hopes to build a $1 billion resort casino and retail complex in Palmer. It is one of three projects competing for the sole western Massachusetts license allowed under the state’s 2011 gambling law.

“Monson has well founded apprehensions regarding the Mohegan Sun project, and fully expects that it will undertake all actions necessary to identify and quantify adverse impacts,” wrote Jeffrey Fialky, an attorney retained by town officials. “The town fully expects that Mohegan Sun will devote time and resources necessary to discuss these matters directly with the town.”

The letter was sent this week to J. Gary Ludertitz, vice president of operations and development for Uncasville, Conn.-based Mohegan Gaming Advisors, and John Ziemba, ombudsman for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

Monson has requested negotiations with Mohegan Sun, but no “meaningful meetings or discussions” had yet taken place, Fialky wrote.

Instead, Mohegan Sun and the commission are circumventing the intent of the casino law by collaborating with a regional group, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, over potential impacts on surrounding cities and towns, the letter stated.

In a statement, Mohegan Sun said it was mindful of the requirement to address concerns of surrounding communities and was following the commission’s recommendation that it use regional planning agencies to coordinate efforts.

The PVPC was scheduled to host a meeting with area towns on Oct. 9 and Mohegan Sun was looking forward to “substantive discussions,” the statement added.

The casino law does not give neighboring cities and towns a direct say in whether a casino should be built, as it does host communities. But the law does say that developers must negotiate with surrounding communities and — if necessary — provide compensation for traffic and other potential impacts.

At a state gambling commission meeting last week, Ziemba expressed alarm that not a single surrounding community agreement had been reached even as two key casino application deadlines approached: Oct. 4 for slots-only facilities and Dec. 31 for regional resort casino developers.

Commissioners said they were prepared to send disputes between companies and surrounding communities to binding arbitration if they cannot be resolved through negotiations.

The letter from Monson would be reviewed by the commission, said spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll, who added in an email that the state panel has been “very vocal about urging applicants to engage in discussions with communities about potential impacts or lack thereof.”

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