BOSTON - The Massachusetts Gaming Commission announced a plan Thursday for determining which communities neighboring potential gambling venues would be allowed to have a say in the licensing process.
The plan is in response to concerns by many municipalities located near proposed gambling sites. Residents of those towns, such as Foxboro, fear gambling would increase drunken driving and crime rates in the area, as well as bring down property values.
The commission is charged with licensing and overseeing the operations of three resort casinos and a slots-only parlor. The Legislature approved the expanded gambling plan in November of 2011.
Gaming Commission Ombudsman John Ziemba said communities seeking "surrounding community" status could be included in the approval process in three ways: The casino applicant would endorse the surrounding community directly in the application, the agreement between applicants and neighboring communities would be included in the application or municipalities could petition the commission to be included in the process.
"If we conclude that the surrounding community is a surrounding community, then the surrounding community and the applicant have 30 days to work out an agreement," said Commissioner James McHugh, a veteran justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court.
"If they can't, the commission has to have protocols to ensure a surrounding community agreement is reached."
McHugh said including neighboring towns in the process would come after background checks on casino applications are finished by April 15, but Stephen Crosby, the chairman of the gaming commission, said the deadline might be ambitious.
"There's been some feedback that this is more than some of the bidders can manage," Crosby said.
The commission also discussed its plans for licensing the slot parlor.
"I've spoken to representatives from each of the four slot applicants to see if the Sept. 1 deadline is doable. I've gotten different responses from each," Ziemba said.
Ziemba said the Plainridge Racecourse in Plainville and the former Raynham dog track say they can meet the deadline.
He said two other applicants, PPE Casino and Massachusetts Gaming and Entertainment, said the deadline is unrealistic.
PPE suggested November as a better deadline and MGE also wants a later deadline because "the development approval process is complicated and calls for significant public participation," Ziemba said.
The commission plans to meet on March 21 in Southeastern Massachusetts.