By Associated Press - Tuesday, February 25, 2014

BOSTON (AP) - Massachusetts gambling regulators opened deliberations Tuesday on the state’s first and only slots parlor license, with proposals in Plainville and Leominster appearing to gain an early edge over Raynham Park.

The state gambling commission is evaluating the three applicants on five major categories, with a final decision expected Friday.

The applicants for the slots parlor license are the Plainridge harness racetrack in Plainville, operated by Penn National Gaming; Raynham Park, a former dog racing track that has partnered with Greenwood Racing; and Cordish Cos., which hopes to build a slots parlor in Leominster.

A report from Commissioner James McHugh, who oversaw the review of the building and site design category, gave solid ratings of “sufficient to very good” for the Plainville and Leominster proposals, while grading Raynham “sufficient to insufficient.”

Raynham’s final plan was “essentially a large box and many of the nongaming amenities are not as well-defined as the other applicant submittals,” McHugh said in his report.

Plainville presented an “integrated design approach marrying the existing harness racing venue and simulcast with the slot parlor in a well-developed concept,” McHugh said, while Leominster offered “a well-documented overall design concept emphasizing an upscale entertainment venue with three features - gaming, dining, and live entertainment - each of which is a draw in and of itself.”

Commissioner Enrique Zuniga, who evaluated the finances of each applicant, said in his presentation Tuesday that all three had demonstrated the financial ability to develop and operate a successful slots parlor.

But Zuniga gave Plainville the top ranking of “very good to outstanding,” noting Penn National’s experience in operating 28 other gambling facilities in North America and its understanding of “the current and future Massachusetts competitive marketplace.”

Leominster received an overall grade of “very good” with Zuniga saying Cordish had sound investment, market and operation plans.

Raynham Park trailed in the finance category with an overall grade of “sufficient to very good,” with Zuniga’s report questioning whether the company would have direct access to all the funds it needed to build a permanent facility.

The commission was slated to discuss the three other major categories, economic development, mitigation and general overview, later in the week.

Under the state’s 2011 gambling law, the winner of the slots parlor license can install up to 1,250 slot machines in its facility, but no table games.

The law also allows for up to three larger resort casinos, with the commission expected to award licenses for the greater Boston and western Massachusetts regions by June 30.

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