New Bedford not giving up despite tribe's deal in Middleborough 4-28-07

BOSTON (AP) - New Bedford officials said Saturday they will step up efforts to convince the Mashpee Wampanoag Indians to build a casino in their city, despite an agreement by the tribe's backers to purchase land in nearby Middleborough as a possible casino site.

“They'd be taking the second best option,” said New Bedford City Councilor David Alves.

Alves said he'll continue to aggressively market a 95-acre waterfront location as a spot for a casino.

“We're a welcome host for gaming, unlike many communities that have been untested,” Alves said. “Middleborough has not said wholeheartedly that they'll take it.”

The Mashpee Wampanoags received federal recognition as a tribe on Feb. 15, and tribal leaders want Gov. Deval Patrick and Beacon Hill lawmakers to pass legislation allowing them to build a casino.

The federal status, which becomes official May 23, already gives the tribe the right to operate bingo parlors within 50 miles of its tribal home on Cape Cod, but the tribe wants the state to pass a bill that would enable it to build a casino similar to Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. Middleborough and New Bedford have been pitching their communities as good casino spots.

New Bedford City Councilor Brian Gomes said a casino would bring jobs to a city with 9 percent unemployment. He acknowleged opposition to gambling because people become addicted to it, but added, “Those are choices that people make in life.”

Marsha Brunelle, chairwoman of the Middleborough Board of Selectmen, said her town offers the best location.

“We're off 495,” she said of the interstate highway. “It runs from the edge of the Cape all the way up to New Hampshire, with all the different connectors.”

Brockton has also shown interest in hosting a casino, but City Council President Dennis Eaniri said Saturday that the project is unlikely because there's no large property available.

Patrick has a task force examining whether to support an expansion of legal gambling beyond the Massachusetts Lottery and the state's four racetracks. He expects a report by the end of the summer.

Detroit casino developer Herb Strather, who is backing the Mashpee Wampanoags, agreed to purchase the Middleborough parcels during an auction held at town hall Friday. The land is off Route 44, which is close to Interstate 495.

Tribal Chairman Glenn Marshall, who didn't return a call Saturday, has indicated that no final decision has been made on Middleborough, and that sites in other communities are still being considered. Tribe spokesman Scott Ferson also didn't return a call.

Clyde Barrow, director of the Center for Policy Analysis at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, said casino developers prefer suburban or rural locations that are accessible to major highways.

“Congestion is a killer for a casino,” said Barrow, whose center has conducted opinion polls on casinos. “People want the convenience of being able to get in and out fairly quickly.”

In Middleborough, the tribe's backers only had to post $5,000 to bid on Friday. The balance of the bid price is due within 45 days of the auction sale.

Alves said New Bedford has an advantage over the rural Middleborough site, which he said would require extra construction.

“We have infrastructure. The sewer lines, electrical lines are in,” Alves said. “I don't think they're going to find anything better than New Bedford.”