Mashpee Wampanoags set to close on land deal in Middleborough 6-7-07

BOSTON (AP) - The Mashpee Wampanoags will close on a deal to buy 125 acres of land in Middleborough on Friday, relying in part on the financial backing of developers of the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut.

The $1.8 million deal fuels the momentum building for casino gambling in Massachusetts. The tribe has an option to buy another 225 acres in the town - and ultimately would like to purchase up to 1,000.

Developers Sol Kerzner and Len Wolman - known as Trading Cove Mashpee - can provide as much as $1 billion in capital for the development of a major, destination casino, according to the tribe. The two are no longer involved in Mohegan Sun, one of the world's largest casinos.

Wolman said he and Kerzner were impressed by the tribe's efforts to gain federal recognition.

“The northeast is a very densely populated area,” he said. “We think that the New England gaming market has further potential to grow.”

He declined to say how much it would cost to build a new casino saying much would depend on the location and infrastructure costs, but added the team has the resources needed.

It won't be cheap. Beyond construction costs, the tribe would have to pay for nearby improvements. In Middleborough, for example, that likely would include the cost of widening Route 24 to funnel traffic to the site.

Despite the land push in Middleborough, tribal council chairman Glenn Marshall said Thursday the tribe hasn't made a final decision on a casino site and also is looking at New Bedford.

“We really want to go where a community wants us,” Marshall said, calling Middleborough a “natural fit” for the tribe.

He suggested revenues from a New Bedford casino could go in part to help pay for a proposed commuter rail line from Boston.

Regardless of location, the goal is the same, he said.

“We want to build a first-class, five-star hotel with all the bells and whistles because that's what it takes to compete with Connecticut,” Marshall told members of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce. He also said he wanted the casino to be “as green as possible.”

But Peter Forman, president of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, said many smaller, local restaurants, stores and tourist spots were worried a casino would siphon off customers.

“I'm concerned that it would be a black hole of activity,” Foreman said. “Would it just become a vacuum and just suck up other businesses?”

Marshall said he wanted to work with local communities to make sure existing businesses grow along with a casino.

By law, the tribe can already build a so-called “level 2” gaming facility, with machines similar to slot machines. If the state changed the law to allow “level 3” gambling, the tribe would be able to build a casino with slot machines and games such as poker, blackjack and roulette.

State Treasurer Timothy Cahill has said the state should try to beat the tribe to the punch by building one or more resort casinos. But opponents, including House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, D-Boston, remain cool to the idea.

Gov. Deval Patrick has said he would wait for the recommendations of a panel he appointed to study the issue before deciding his position.

At stake is hundreds of millions in possible revenue for the state at a time when lottery sales are sagging and Patrick has proposed billions in new spending.