Finance Committee held a public hearing Tuesday on the proposed zoning bylaw changes that would allow a slots-only casino at 300 Ames Pond Drive.
In a presentation at the meeting, Penn National Gaming unveiled the name of the proposed facility, "Merrimack Valley Casino," as well as renderings of what the slots parlor could look like.
Also included in the 125,000 square-foot facility would be a "Flutie's Sports Bar," thanks to a partnership between the former Boston College and New England Patriots quarterback Doug Flutie and Penn National.
Representatives from Penn National also provided 5-year gaming revenue projections for Merrimack Valley Casino:
- Year one: $150.2 million
- Year two: $165.2 million
- Year three: $180.2 million
- Year four: $195.2 million
- Year five: $210.1 million
Finance Committee member David McGinness asked the representatives from Penn National if the facility would include a hotel.
Jeff Morris, Director of Public Affairs at Penn National, said there were no plans for a hotel at this time and that Penn National would be partnering with hotels in Tewksbury to accommodate guests of the casino.
"We met with some of the general managers of the hotels in the area and found their capacity rates are 50 percent," Morris said. "We do not feel it would be appropriate to take away business from them so we'll be looking to partner with them to help drive them to 70 or 75 percent occupancy rates."
Finance Committee member Damin Sutherby asked the hours the facility would be serving alcohol, and if free drinks would be served to patrons of the facility.
Morris said free drinks would be served on a limited basis, and alcohol would not be served later than other bars and restaurants in Tewksbury serve.
"We do not plan to serve alcohol other than the times other bars do in town," Morris said. "We don't want to take any business away from them. We will serve some free drinks, but we won't be serving them to everyone who steps into the casino. It would be done on a limited basis."
Town Manager Richard Montuori added that the alcohol license for the proposed slots-only casino would be issued by the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, and thus wouldn't take away from the quota the town can issue.
Montuori also addressed questions on how surrounding communities would be involved in the process as it moves forward.
"We've had initial meetings with Lowell and Andover," Montuori said. "Those talks will continue between Penn and those communities in trying to understand the impact studies they would like."
Montuori said the revenue from the project would be split between the town and schools, and would go toward capital improvement projects for both schools and town buildings as well as paying for other services the town needs.
Andover Selectmen held a public forum Tuesday with John Ziemba of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
Finance Committee member Thomas Cooke said he did not believe there would be 1,000 construction jobs created should the proposal receive approval, as is outlined in the host community agreement between Penn National and Tewksbury.
"When I look at the infrastructure and construction needs the jobs won't be 1,000, it will be less than 1,000," Cooke said.
Finance Committee Chairman David Aznavoorian asked Morris what work Penn had been doing in reaching out to business in Tewksbury, and how far along in those discussions they were.
"I've spent the last three weeks meeting with whoever wants to meet with us and answering their questions," Morris said. "I've met with local businesses, restaurants as well as the Greater Lowell Chamber of Commerce"
Lou Antonelli, a member of IBEW Local 103, said he and other union workers who were present at Tuesday's meeting were in favor of the proposal for the jobs it would create for local union workers.
"The definite positive impact it will have economically is jobs," Antonelli said. "The jobs are good paying construction jobs as well as the permanent jobs that come after, these are not Walmart jobs, not low wage crappy-pay jobs."
Antonelli said the proposed slots-only casino would provide much needed work for local electricians.
"There would be 1,250 slot machines. Each one of these machines has a logical circuit, data circuit and a security camera. That's a lot of electrical work for Tewksbury electricians," Antonelli said.
Several residents voiced concerns about increased traffic in the area of the proposed facility, near the Interstate 495/Route 133 interchange
Alex Stolyar, Vice President of Corporate Development for Penn National, said the company had found in its other locations that their facilities' peak hours did not conflict with rush hour traffic.
"Our peak times are post dinner times on Friday and Saturday nights, after 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday," Stolyar said. "Normally we find it works well. It does not compete with existing rush hour times."
Stolyar also noted Penn National would be paying for any mitigation that a traffic impact study reveals as necessary in the area.
When asked if Penn National was concerned at all about over saturation of the market for casinos with other proposed casinos in the area, Stolyar said the company had factored that consideration into their revenue projections.
"We believe New Hampshire will legalize gaming right across the border and our projections take that into account," Stolyar said. "Our commitment to the town is not based upon our performance, the host community agreement guarantees a $200 million investment. That's a hard commitment."
Jay Kelley, former Tewksbury Chief Assessor, said he was opposed to the proposed slots-only casino.
"It's not good for the town, the bad outweighs the good," Kelley said. "The revenue would be a nice increase, but it's not going to change the ways we live."