No Slots Tewksbury Ramps Up Efforts Ahead of Special Town Meeting

Two members of the group opposed to the proposed Merrimack Valley Casino speak about their concerns of having a slots-only casino in Tewksbury.

No Slots Tewksbury signs on the front lawn of Bruce Panilaitis, along with Mikey Bankowski (12), Jack Panilaitis (10) and Tim Panilaitis (8).
No Slots Tewksbury signs on the front lawn of Bruce Panilaitis, along with Mikey Bankowski (12), Jack Panilaitis (10) and Tim Panilaitis (8).

In the weeks since a host community agreement was signed between Penn National Gaming and the town of Tewksbury for the proposed slots-only casino at 300 Ames Pond Drive, a group of residents have organized in opposition to the proposal. 

"No Slots Tewksbury," emerging first on Facebook, has since continued to organize a campaign against the proposed Merrimack Valley Casino; on Wednesday, their website went live.

Residents will vote at an Aug. 20 special Town Meeting on whether to approve proposed amendments to the zoning bylaw, and until then, members of No Slots Tewksbury will be working hard to get opponents of the proposal out to vote, according to No Slots member Bruce Panilaitis.

"We don't have the time to do a full educational plan to bring voters from one side to the other," Panilaitis said. "Our focus right now is on getting one-third plus one at special Town Meeting on Aug. 20."

Panilaitis said the group has been printing out "No Slots" signs, going door to door talking to residents about the proposal and reminding them to get out to vote on Aug. 20. 

The proposed amendments to town zoning bylaw would require a two-thirds majority to pass at special Town Meeting, then sending the proposal to a town referendum on Saturday, Sept. 21.

Panilaitis said he believes the character of Tewksbury would change forever were the proposed slots-only casino to receive approval. 

"Tewksbury would immediately become 'the slots town,' " Panilaitis said. "When my wife and I were looking for a town to live in, if Tewksbury had a slots parlor we wouldn't have chosen it. If this were to pass I believe there would be a flight of people moving out of town, including us. "

Expansion from a slots-only casino to one with a full offering of tables games and other gaming experiences is a concern for Panilaitis and other members of No Slots Tewksbury. 

"I'm originally from Connecticut. I remember when Foxwoods was a little bingo parlor on the side of Route 2, and I know what it looks like now," Panilaitis said. "If it were to get through the process the first time, I have to assume a change or expansion would get through as well."

Panilaitis, a resident of Foster Road, said he believes the revenue the town would received from proposed slots-only casino would not be worth the harm the facility could do to local business and in lowering property values. 

"I think this in the end would make [the town's] revenue problems worse due to people leaving town, people not considering Tewksbury when looking for a community to move to and the negative impact it would have on other local businesses," Panilaitis said.

As outlined in the host community agreement, Penn National Gaming would annual pay Tewksbury a mitigation payment of $1 million, $120,000 contributions to fund Tewksbury's capital expenditures and an estimated $3 million in property tax. 

While Panilaitis is opposed to the proposed Merrimack Valley Casino at 300 Ames Pond Drive, he said he understands why the Board of Selectmen moved forward with a host community agreement with Penn National Gaming. 

"If the Selectmen had voted against moving forward with this proposal, I wouldn't have been unhappy, but I understand the pressure they're under to generate revenue," Panilaitis said. "Had they made that decision on their own, they would have been subject to criticism from the other side. I think they're mistaken, but I understand where they're coming from."

Panilaitis noted that, should the slots proposal be defeated, opponents of the proposal have to be prepared to support Selectmen in moving forward with other plans to generate revenue for the town. 

"When we're done with this we're going to have to turn around and help the Selectmen with other ways to generate more revenue," Panilaitis said. "If we're not going to allow this we have to be ready to support them in other avenues."

You can read Panilaitis's blog here outlining his opposition to the proposed slots-only casino but support for Selectmen. 

In speaking to other residents about the proposed Merrimack Valley Casino, Panilaitis said he has received a mixed response of support and disapproval.

Panilaitis said the thought of moving out of town is hard to contemplate, but something he would seriously consider should the proposed Merrimack Valley Casino receive approval.

"I've been tied to this community and been living here for 13 years, and the notion of having to sell my house, which we just put an addition on, is not an attractive consideration, but that's the situation we would be in should this go through," Panilaitis said. 

Al Barchard, also a member of No Slots Tewksbury, said the issue for him isn't with gambling, it's with the possibility of a casino being built in Tewksbury. 

"Tewksbury is clearly getting short changed in this deal," Barchard said. "When a slot parlor goes in, money spent at a slots parlor is money not spent at other businesses in Tewksbury. When you say yes to one thing, you say no to another."

Barchard said he believes the estimated $3 million the town would collect annually in property taxes is a rosy projection.

"In order to obtain $3 million in property tax, the assessed value of the property would have to be approximately $117 million," Barchard said. "If you look at the other largest properties in town, they are not valued at $117 million. A slot parlor with 1,250 machines would never have an assessed value so high."

In speaking with residents about the proposed slots-only casino, Barchard said he has received a mixed reaction.

"The reaction we've gotten has been mixed," Barchard said. "I think that comes from the fact the host community agreement was signed so fast. A lot of people were away on vacation and are just coming back."

Barchard said the short timeline between the introduction of the proposal to residents in early July and the special Town Meeting vote on Aug. 20 is not enough time for residents to become completely educated on the proposal.

"There were no traffic or impact studies presented at the outset, it's all been after the fact," Barchard said. "The townspeople should have had that information before any sort of agreement was reached."

A traffic impact study by Penn National is currently underway, and the company would fund any mitigation needed as a result of that study.

Barchard said he felt a host community agreement should have been signed only after residents had information on the potential impacts to Tewksbury in front of them. 

"I think we should have had 100 percent of the information from the impact studies," Barchard said. "It should have been done after Labor Day when people are around to receive the information and make an educated decision on all the issues. Only at that point should the Board of Selectmen considered reaching the host community agreement."

No Slots Tewksbury will hold an informational meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 13 at 7 p.m. at Tewksbury Country Club. Speakers will include State Rep. James Miceli, former State Senator Sue Tucker and Psychologist Tom Larkin. 

Dave August 09, 2013 at 04:37 PM
Very simple now every concern the no people have been addressed. The town will receive 3million tax plus on property, 1 million mitigation per year, 120k in asset guarantee, 900k over 5 years for police and fire, reduction of water and sewer of apx 11% and traffic study will be paid by penn along with pump. So people wake up vote yes. Think and do your homework instead of deciding based on boozy man fear. Get informed go to planning board on Monday at 830 , Tuesday BO'S 7 or FINCOM Thursday at 7 The right answer for Tewksbury is Yes.
Friend of Ferncroft August 09, 2013 at 05:57 PM
There's only one unknown in the total "savings" smoke screen. When is this town going to stop spending money it does not have. If you think the 3 million is going to bail us out of the 110 million we owe for the sewer project, without including the other major capital expenditures this town has made , you're kidding your self. The only way this will help us is to get the town to stop the huge expenditures and focus on what's important and needed. Forget trying to keep up with other towns, we have spent the tax revenue our children will pay!!! Hows the new turf field coming??
Paul Fournier August 09, 2013 at 07:00 PM
Karyn, Ya, you'd be able to hear the slot machines OUTSIDE, and 1/4 mi from the nearest house! Are you REALLY that simple? And it won't be ;lit up like a Christmas tree. Have you seen the artists rendering??
Karyn August 09, 2013 at 09:19 PM
Hurling insults at me doesn't help your case any and shows how boorish 'some' of you pro-people are. That is an artist's RENDERING, an interpretation of what it "could" look like. Remember the huge, ugly South St. cell tower was once a 'rendering' too and we see how that worked out. Wake up... if you think this is going to be a little quiet chalet tucked hidden in the woods with no advertising lights, signs, bells and whistles you're clearly dreaming. I'm done with this conversation. VOTE NO on Aug. 20th.
Comment August 09, 2013 at 10:11 PM
Google article dated 9/15/12 (less than a year ago) Link is at bottom. I wonder how many laid off casino workers from Penn will get a first crack at Tewksbury? About 160 employees of the Hollywood Casino in Indiana are no longer employed after layoffs. News 5 has been in contact with casino authorities who have confirmed the layoffs of roughly 10 percent of the workforce. General Manager Joe Hasson released the following statement: In the wake of the continued softness in consumer spending and the expansion and evolution of the gaming industry throughout Ohio, it was necessary for us to right size our work force and reduce our staff by approximately 160 full-time positions. Those affected by the staff reductions will receive first consideration in applying for any new positions that become available in Lawrenceburg or elsewhere at Penn National Gaming casinos. Following these changes, our employee count is approximately 1,400. The Indiana Gaming Commission has been notified of our decision. Penn National Gaming owns the Hollywood Casino. After the cuts, 1,400 workers are still employed. This year two casinos opened in Ohio, one in Toledo and the other in Cleveland. One worker told News 5 that Hollywood might create 33 part time slots. However, the only thing the general manager said is that all affected workers will have first consideration for jobs available in Lawrenceburg or any other casino owned by Penn Gaming. "These people have families. They gave their time, their lives to the boat," said Mike Baker, owner of a bar in Lawrenceburg. "Some have been their 10 or 12 plus years I know a lot of them personally. They're not just customer. It's just not the right way to do things." Read more: http://www.wlwt.com/news/local-news/indiana/More-than-150-layoffs-at-Hollywood-Casino/-/13610848/16496830/-/15psefcz/-/index.html#ixzz2bWmm9rF8
keep growing tewksbury:(( August 10, 2013 at 12:32 PM
The state needs to do away with the Lottery, it brings to much crime, noise, trash. Lets get rid of it "for the children, they deserve better"!!!! No more gambling in this state, c'mon, cant ya see what it is doing to this state? Oh the humanity.... on a more serious note, VOTE YES and move on.....
Paul Fournier August 10, 2013 at 01:11 PM
Chris, Do you REALLY think people would uproot their families from Ohio to move to Tewksbury? Not for a minimum wage job, they wouldn't...
Dave August 10, 2013 at 01:43 PM
Wow the no people are so emotional that facts are irrelevant. Every single one of there concerns have been addressed and it clearly shows that the town will benefit. The no people are just emotional without logic. They have that right but let's see what they say when tax overrides start happening and all of our taxes go up. Lets see where they are in finding alternatives and solutions. The no people have provided no solutions other then no.
Comment August 10, 2013 at 05:53 PM
My point is that Penn National is a big company and will draw from their own talent pool. If you have to lay off 150 minimum wage workers why would they spend money to completely train New people when you already have those employees willing to relocate to other Penn Nation casinos. It's crazy for people to think locals are just going to step into all these jobs. Apply to Penn National and see what happens. And yes, ironically I have a coworker that is a recent transplant from Ohio.
Karyn August 10, 2013 at 05:56 PM
I think there has been plenty of logic presented in various links provided whether or not you choose to see it. It is an emotional issue because there is SO much at stake to rely on the pledges and promises of a company where getting people to buy into their agenda is their business and what they're good at with no guarantees that aren't in writing and plenty of outs built in for what is. Do you really think people voting no would waste time blogging and volunteering to hold signs, etc. if they didn't CARE??? I spent 3 hours out there in the heat today because I DO care. We are not paid like some of the shills for Penn doing their canvassing. Most of us have done our homework as well and DON'T HAPPEN TO AGREE WITH YOU!!! And again, it isn't the JOB of the "no" residents (many of whom volunteer at MANY other Town endeavors) to come up with OTHER AND BETTER solutions. (though I think there HAVE been some referenced by the NO SLOTS group on these threads) That's the job of the people we elected....if they aren't sheep. If they didn't know what they "signed up for" then they shouldn't have run for the position. One more thing....I would hardly call a traffic study done BY the proponent in the middle of SUMMER a good indication of traffic numbers in this area so THAT for one thing is NOT acceptable and I live on a street that will be detrimentally affected. Don't call me NIMBY because I've volunteered/helped in many causes that would have affected SOUTH Tewksbury as well.
Karyn August 10, 2013 at 06:10 PM
My remarks were directed @ Red, not Chris whose points I agree with.
Paul Fournier August 10, 2013 at 06:24 PM
Karyn, I thought you were DONE with this conversation?? "Out there in the heat"? Are you kidding me? It was beautiful out yesterday!!! Stop patting yourself on the back... There are PLENTY of guarantees IN WRITING... I've seen 'clueless' before, but you take the prize. See, I LIVED across the street from PENNS casino in Bangor, Me. for 5 months, fall and winter, the BUSIEST months, and there were NO PROBLEMS there, and the residents of Bangor WELCOMED the casino. Oh, BTW, in a study, crime actually went DOWN, from the time the casino went in, in 2009, and 2011's study....
Paul Fournier August 10, 2013 at 06:25 PM
Chris, I doubt your 'resident transplant' is working for minimum wage, and supporting a family on it....
Karyn August 10, 2013 at 08:01 PM
Well, bully for you living next to a casino....perhaps you should have stayed there. Speaking of 'bullies'....once again the comment was not directed to YOU....sorry you feel the constant need to jump in with more insults. Reflects on you more than me.
Paul Fournier August 10, 2013 at 08:51 PM
Waaaaaaa! Cry me a river... Seems as though you hate reality and FACTS... Hey, when they open the casino, I'll buy you a drink and even drop a buck into the slot machine of your choice! :)
tbone August 15, 2013 at 07:43 AM
I see the "NO SLOTS" signs around town, but believe me theres WAY more positive reaction then those few clowns... don't know about them knuckleheads but paying $5000. in property tax and some of the highest water and sewer rates in the state sucks... not to mention the jobs brought to town, tax revenue, money for police and fire depts. jeez, that sounds awful ....said no one ever..... my frinds live in Bangor Me. where these people also run a parlor, they have nothing but positive words for them .... and they're not gamblers, been there once ....
Paul Fournier August 15, 2013 at 09:23 AM
@ Not an idiot (are you trying to convince yourself?) First off, yes, I DO frequent casinos. WHY? Because my SIX FIGURE income allows it! If you read my previous posts, you would see that A. I was in Bangor for 5 months on business. B. That while I was there, I NEVER saw the police at this casino, homeless people walking around it, or shady characters in the parking lot (Like those seen at the Caswell Motel) and C. I GREW UP in Tewksbury, and still want whats best for it. Over the years, I watched Tewksbury go to hell in a handbag... Bangor is a great little town, and they are quite HAPPY with the casino, and the revenues it has brought in. I'd say "Take a drive up and check out the area.", but you probably can't afford the GAS to get there!
J. S. August 15, 2013 at 09:42 AM
Why are people that visit these people lowlifes? I think that is a ridiculous statement.
Dave August 15, 2013 at 09:43 AM
Paul save your breath Not an idiot , bubba, karyn have all been indoctrinated into the kook aid that no slots keeps spewing. The pep rallys on Tuesday without any substance just pure emotion is the mantra. Sadly I think the rally at The Tewksbury Country Club showed that they are just puppets for other peoples agenda and being used to vote no and indoctrinate others into the brain washing. When every argument they have had was addressed they reverted to personal attacks and the boogy man approach. Sadly what they do not realize is they are just puppets for other peoples agenda who will benefit if no slots in tewksbury happens. Wake up Zombies and show up Tuesday to Vote YES to tewksbury rezoning!
Christopher Gambon (Editor) August 15, 2013 at 11:24 AM
Comments with personal attacks have been deleted per our Terms of Use (http://www.patch.com/terms).
Kathleen Brothers August 15, 2013 at 11:37 AM
People, I think it is time to cool down this whole debate. Personal attacks do not help anyone in our town. The one remark I would make is, The people against slots seem to be very angry and many of them have no facts to back up what they say. I am sure they feel emotionally voting no, is the way to go. So be it, vote no!I But, please respect the opinions of others in town. Mary everything you are posting is getting old! And Red, even though you are defending the questions your remarks are getting old too. I personally am tired of all the sarcastic remarks, and anger filled posts both on here and at meetings! I would like to see more factual posts on Patch for the remainder of the time before Town Meeting. Thanks for listening....
North Tewksbury Redman August 15, 2013 at 01:13 PM
And how much of that SIX FIGURE income (you didn't include the decimal point, right?) did you piss away in the slot machines? Slot machines are designed for one purpose, and one purpose only - to take your money. Do you really think Penn is here to help us? No! They are here to take money from Tewksbury (and MA) residents. The local economy will lose more money than Penn will pay in taxes and mitigation fees.
Dave August 15, 2013 at 01:58 PM
Kathleen thank you - I will tell you what If Bubba, Not an Idiot, Mary et all stop posting lies and distortions I will stop posting. I truly get frustrated when posts twist the truth to benefit there position. I truly went to the Tuesday KOOk aid meeting at the Tewksbury Country Club for hope that they might have a solution to help increase revenue for the town but it was all rhetoric and very one sided without any balance chanting vote no on Tuesday. Also if the no slots can provide $4.5 million a year in additional revenue I will vote no to the Casino. They have provided no solutions therefore we must vote yes to help the town with its financial challenges.
Kathleen Brothers August 15, 2013 at 02:09 PM
Red, thanks for responding. I understand your frustration, truly I do. But, in my opinion, all the sarcastic remarks benefit no one's position on either side. We need actual facts and figures for this debate. I would never want you to stop posting, but please come up with some new stuff.
Dave August 15, 2013 at 02:13 PM
Thank you Kathleen - i respect that!
EMA August 15, 2013 at 02:22 PM
Kathleen, you've posted your fair share of anger fueled comments, especially to those who don't agree with your position on the casino matter, so perhaps you should follow your own advice.
Kathleen Brothers August 15, 2013 at 02:49 PM
Name one, please. EMA
EMA August 15, 2013 at 03:16 PM
Kathleen, if you read back to some of your digs above as well as your comments on other stories, perhaps you'll understand. Or not...it really doesn't matter. You won't change my mind and I won't change yours. I can agree to disagree. See you Tuesday!
Paul Fournier August 15, 2013 at 09:15 PM
@ Not an idiot, according to my 2012 tax documents, it was $104k...I'm quite capable of understanding when a decimal point is used, and no, that is not one of them. :) I spend anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to maybe $1k. I GAMBLE it, knowing that it may be gone, or it could come back tenfold! Thats why they call it GAMBLING. However, my money is mine to do what I wish. How do you figure that the local economy will lose? Please explain this brilliant thought, as all people with common sense see is people coming INTO Tewks to spend MONEY. All I see are LOCAL RESIDENTS working in the casino... All the construction jobs it will create...Tewksbury USED to be a great little town, today, not so much. It could really use the extra money, and all the money infused by the visitors and employees of the casino. If u got a spare $50, buy some gas and take a ride to Bangor. There, you can see REALITY, and see that the casino there is NOTHING of what you think.
North Tewksbury Redman August 16, 2013 at 02:43 PM
$104k? Wow, with all your bluster, I figured you were making real money. That might make you a one-percenter in Bangor, but not here. The reason this deal will result in a net loss for Tewksbury's economy is pretty simple. People will spend their money at the casino, and not at other establishments in town. Sure, the casino's customers will buy gas at the Hess and Mobil stations nearby, or eat at Longhorn and Wendy's, but they will not frequent Mavericks, Skewers,MVP, etc. Tewksbury residents who go to the casino will have less money to spend at other town businesses, and out of towners will not even venture into other parts of town. Almost all of that money goes into Penn's coffers, and the loss of revenues seen by the other businesses will result in a loss of tax revenue for the town. I feel Tewksbury's leaders are shortchanging the town with this deal. I think $4M should be considered a starting point. We should insist that the town collect no less than 10% of Penn's income to make up for the lost tax revenue. The casino in Bangor raked in over $60M in 2012. Ten percent of that is $6M, which sounds a lot better than $4M. My guess is a casino in this location would make even more money, due to population density. I figure Penn could pull in over $100M annually, which could mean $10M for Tewksbury. I could support that deal.


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