BOSTON (AP) -- The chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission gave a boost Wednesday to a proposal by Cordish Cos. for a slots parlor in Leominster, as the panel moved closer to awarding the state's first license for expanded gambling.
Cordish is competing for the slots parlor license with Penn National Gaming, which hopes to add slot machines at the Plainridge harness racetrack in Plainville, and Raynham Park, a former dog racing track. The five-member commission has been using several categories to evaluate the applications.
The Leominster and Plainville proposals received the strongest grades over two days of discussions, with Raynham Park trailing in others in nearly every category.
Stephen Crosby, the panel's chairman who led a general overview of the projects, gave Leominster a grade of "very good," the highest in that category, saying Cordish's proposal demonstrated creativity and the potential to be the strongest regional location for a slots parlor.
"Thus our analysis suggests that the strategic value of the Leominster location, filling a relatively unserved part of the state and creating a bulwark to a potential Southern New Hampshire facility, has the highest strategic competitive value," Crosby wrote in his report.
Cordish was also praised by Crosby for reaching "outside the box" with its proposal to dedicate at least $1 million in annual gambling revenues to help startup medical device companies in the north-central Massachusetts region.
Penn National was rated sufficient in the general overview, with Crosby's report saying the greatest strength of Plainville's proposal was its promise to maintain horse racing, but that it otherwise offered "few really distinctive features."
Raynham's answers to many questions posed by evaluators were "minimally responsive," the report said, and it received a grade of "sufficient to insufficient," though the park's longtime owner George Carney was praised for his strong support he has in the community.
Crosby told reporters after his presentation that his report did not mean he had made a final determination on which applicant he supports for the slots parlor license, adding that the report was only one of five submitted by members of the commission. Each commissioner has an equal say in awarding the license, and a unanimous vote is not required.
A report submitted Wednesday by Commissioner Gayle Cameron, who oversaw a review of mitigation efforts by each applicant, gave Penn National a grade of "very good," while Cordish Cos., which proposes building a slots parlor in Leominster, and Raynham Park, a former dog track, were both given grades of "sufficient."
The mitigation category includes community outreach and support, efforts to reduce traffic impacts, and plans to address problem gambling and help the state Lottery avoid a downturn in sales due to competition from casinos.
Cameron said Penn National had demonstrated "integrated responsible gaming practices" at gaming facilities it operates in other states.
Commissioner Bruce Stebbins, who oversaw an evaluation of economic development efforts by each of the applicants, rated both Plainville and Leominster as very good in the category, and Raynham Park sufficient. The category includes job creation, work with local businesses and tourism promotion.
After it awards the slots parlor license, the commission will then turn its attention to choosing destination resort casino operators in the eastern and western parts of the state, with decisions on those licenses expected by midyear.
On Tuesday, Revere voters approved a referendum that would allow for a resort casino proposed by Mohegan Sun on land owned by Suffolk Downs.
The vote sets the stage for Mohegan Sun to compete with Wynn Resorts, which has proposed a $1.6 billion facility along the Mystic River in Everett, for the eastern resort casino license.
MGM Resort, planning a casino in Springfield, is the only western Massachusetts applicant.