BOSTON -- Plainville beat out Leominster to become the site of the state's first and only slots parlor in a 3-2 vote Thursday by the state Gaming Commission.
The Cordish Companies pitch for a slots casino off Jungle Road in Leominster was defeated by Penn National Gaming's plan to operate a $225 million facility at the Plainridge harness racetrack. The track has been struggling to stay afloat as horse racing faltered in Massachusetts in recent years.
A third slots applicant, Raynham Park, did not receive any votes.
Joseph Weinberg, chief executive of Baltimore-based Cordish, thought Leominster had a good chance of being selected.
"One of the most disappointing things for us is not having that opportunity to work day-to-day with all these great people that we met, and to work on this project which we felt really had a transformative effect not only on Leominster but the entire North Central region," said Weinberg. "And in that we are very disappointed not to be able to work with the people of the region."
Voting in favor of the Plainville proposal were commissioners Enrique Zuniga, Bruce Stebbins and Gayle Cameron. Favoring Leominster were commission chairman Stephen Crosby and James McHugh.
"We never knew what the outcome was going to be until the vote was taken, so my stomach was in knots for two days," said Tim Wilmott, chief executive of Wyomissing, Pa.-based Penn National.
The commission gave Penn National until Friday to accept a set of conditions, after which the license would be formally issued. Wilmott said he did not see any major concerns with the conditions set by the commission, which were largely technical.
It would be the first license for expanded gambling awarded in Massachusetts since passage of a 2011 state law that allows for up to three regional resort casinos but only one slots parlor, a smaller facility with a maximum of 1,250 slot machines but no table games, such as blackjack.
Wilmott said he expected the slots parlor at Plainridge to be fully operational by the second quarter of 2015, but added the company would also seek permission from regulators to open on a partial basis with 500 slot machines within six months.
The facility will have a sports bar operated with former NFL quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie.
Weinberg and George Carney, the owner of Raynham Park, a former dog track, said they would not challenge the decision.
"The commission treated me with great respect," said Carney.
Arline Stith, a Leominster resident who led a campaign against the Cordish proposal, said she was thrilled by the vote. Stith watched the commission's live-stream video from her home computer.
"I was overcome with tears of joy and thanked God for the David versus Goliath victory," she said. "We don't see gambling as economic development."
Stith said a slots parlor in Leominster would have led to an increase in crime and drug addiction.
Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella said Cordish put forward a solid proposal but believes the company had difficulty convincing those commissioners who thought it was important to preserve the state's horse-racing industry.
"We're disappointed, but you know, I didn't think the horse-track part was going to have such a significance in this," Mazzarella said. "I didn't think that was why the legislation was written."
Crosby said a slots casino in Leominster would have given a greater boost to the local economy than one in Plainville. It could have changed the complexion of North Central Massachusetts for the better, he said.
"I think we're missing the boat on a real good opportunity for a part of the state," said Crosby. "I think the Leominster folks understood how to take this project and make it a potential engine for economic development in an area that needs economic development badly."
Attorney Lynn Gaudet, whose family owns a business on Jungle Road, said she was disappointed with the outcome.
"I think the city of Leominster and surrounding area would have benefitted from the casino being there," she said.
The commission evaluated the proposals on the basis of several categories, including economic development, building and site design, and finance. Penn National and Cordish scored the highest grades, with Raynham trailing in nearly every area.
Once issued the license, Penn National will have 30 days to pay a $25 million licensing fee to the state.
Cordish and Greenwood Racing, of Bensalem, Penn., the company behind the Raynham proposal, are now working together to build a regional casino in Philadelphia. Among the gaming companies they are competing against is Penn National.
This story contains reporting from correspondent Jon Riley and material from the Associated Press.
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