- Associated Press - Thursday, June 5, 2014

BOSTON (AP) - Connecticut-based casino operator Foxwoods on Thursday dismissed speculation that it has shifted focus from Fall River to New Bedford as the possible home for a new resort-style casino in Massachusetts.

“We have not, in any way, shape or form, said that Fall River is unsuitable,” Foxwoods spokeswoman Dale Wolbrink said, shooting down local media reports.

But Wolbrink declined to comment on whether the casino is in serious talks with New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell about possible sites in his city, including the city-owned Whaling City Golf Course.

State gambling regulators have tentatively set Sept. 23 as the next deadline for casino applicants in the southeastern region. The license is not expected to be awarded until at least February 2015.

Foxwoods CEO Scott Butera said the casino operator’s interest in the southeast region “remains strong.”

In March, Foxwoods unveiled plans for a $750 million resort casino on the 30-acre New Harbour Mall site. Then, in May, Fall River Mayor William Flanagan said the casino operator was seeking a 120-acre waterfront property in the city. No proposed host community agreement between the city and the casino operator has materialized. Flanagan’s office did not respond to requests for comment this week.

Foxwoods is pursuing the southeast license after losing its bid for the more lucrative eastern region license, which covers metropolitan Boston. Milford voters in November 2013 rejected a $1 billion proposal by Foxwoods. Under state gambling regulations, any applicants rejected for slot parlor or casino licenses may seek casino licenses in other regions.

Mitchell, the New Bedford mayor, said Thursday that the city has had “active discussions” for months with casino operators, including Foxwoods, but declined to elaborate.

“Casinos are large employers, and, as a city with a roughly 10.9 percent unemployment, we can certainly use the jobs,” he said.

Mitchell said he would prefer a casino on the golf course property, located northwest of downtown along Interstate 195, or in the Hicks-Logan neighborhood, along the waterfront and just north of the city’s protected industrial port area.

But New Bedford City Council President Joseph Lopes, who has not been part of the city’s discussions with casino operators, said he believes the best place for a casino is on the city’s waterfront, close to the historic downtown. Lopes pointed to a former power plant located within the state-designated port area that New York-based development firm KG Urban Enterprises seeks to develop, if it can secure a casino operator.

KG Urban spokesman Andrew Paven said his firm has talked with “several qualified partners,” but he declined to say whether Foxwoods was among them.

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