New Bedford’s Casino Prospects

New Bedford has long been considered as a potential host site for a destination casino in southeastern Massachusetts. With the passage and signing of the casino bill into law in November, the possibility has become increasingly real. In New Bedford, we have two developers who have secured options on parcels on which a casino could be located. The state’s casino licensing process will take shape over the next year.

While I do not believe in the provision that gives a one-year exclusivity clause to federally recognized Indian tribes, I do believe that all developers should seek a collaboration with the Indian tribes. Casinos are about money and revenue generation, not about Indian history, heritage or culture. Profits derived from the casino may help the members of a tribe and may help build community centers, health and housing facilities, but the motivation of involvement with a casino is profit. I urge all parties to come to the table to discuss an appropriate division of private sector casino profits. The issue is the split of the proceeds, not any other. As the law is currently written, if New Bedford is to have an opportunity to host a casino, the developers must enter into a compact with the Indian tribes.

The second part of the casino issue for Southeastern Massachusetts, better known under the law as Region C, is the actual location of the casino. A casino can be located in New Bedford only if it melds with, and complements, our local economy. A casino can only be located in New Bedford if its design is appropriate for an urban area and if it creates true benefit for the City. The casino must pay its fair share of property taxes, all user fees, and hire locally. It must not denigrate our quality of life. The casino must use our restaurants, patronize our established attractions, support the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center, and renovate the Orpheum Theatre. The casino should build a transportation system to move patrons around the city. The casino cannot dilute the authentic nature of New Bedford. If these conditions are not met, New Bedford will be better served by developing its deep water harbor property in more appropriate ways.

The process itself through which a casino may be located in New Bedford is critical and deserves not only our careful consideration, but also a public spotlight. I cannot emphasize this enough: it is of the utmost importance that any contact between casino developers and elected officials occur in an open and transparent public forum. The integrity of our government must be protected, and our residents must be able to have full faith that their government is acting only on their behalf and in their best interest. I trust that both developers and elected officials agree that this is the best and only way to conduct business. I know that our citizenry demands and deserves nothing less.