Harveys gambles on Massachusetts coast for next casino | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Harveys gambles on Massachusetts coast for next casino

Rob Bhatt

Talk about cutting edge. Harveys Casino Resorts has announced plans to develop a $300 million casino resort in Salisbury Beach, Mass. – a seaside community in a state that does not yet allow casino gaming.

Last week, Harveys President and CEO Charles W. Scharer along with Jim Rafferty, corporate vice president of marketing, unveiled the proposal to Salisbury Beach residents.

Conceptually, the South Lake Tahoe-based casino corporation seeks to build a roughly 1,000-room hotel, a full-service casino, shops and an enclosed amusement park along the beach.

The proposal already has the blessing of the Vision Group, a committee of Salisbury Beach business owners hoping a casino will revitalize the town’s tourist economy.

Whether the state Legislature, scheduled to hold a special hearing today on legalized gaming, welcomes such a plan remains to be seen.

“We are very positive about it,” said Gary Aiazzi, Harveys corporate director of property development. “The big ‘if’ is whether (gaming) is legalized in the state. If the state wants us, we’re here. If it doesn’t, we’re gone.”

Voters in the town of Salisbury, along the Massachusetts coast about 40 miles northeast of Boston, twice in the 1990s have supported legalized casino gaming in their community.

The resort town has a year-round population of 7,000 that swells to about 20,000 during the summer, said Town Manager Michael Basque. Beginning in the late 1980s, Salisbury saw recession strike its tourism-based economy, prompting talks of taking the gamble on gaming.

The town currently operates on a roughly $10 million annual budget. Initial financial studies suggest that Harveys’ casino proposal could inject another $7 million into municipal coffers, a figure that civic leaders apparently could not ignore.

“Folks feel that (a casino resort) would upgrade what’s going on at the beach now by bringing revenue to the area,” Basque said.

The Vision Group during the past three years reportedly met with about five potential casino developers.

It selected Harveys about six months ago. One of the most significant factors was Harveys’ record of public service and involvement in the communities where it has developed resorts, said Jim Acton, a public relations consultant for the Vision Group and Harveys.

Since then, Harveys officials have reportedly obtained options to buy out about 90 separately-owned parcels in the Salisbury Beach commercial district. The purchases are conditioned upon state approval of casino gaming and Harveys’ ability to obtain licensing.

A state lottery, dog and horse racing are currently the only legal forms of gambling in Massachusetts.

Besides Salisbury, a handful of other Massachusetts communities are interested in developing casinos, Basque said. Consequently, several bills proposing legalized casino gaming are pending before state lawmakers.

Part of Massachusetts interest in gaming is based on the success of Foxwoods Casino, an American Indian-owned resort that opened about four years ago in Ledyard, Conn.

About one-third of the license plates on vehicles entering the Foxwoods bear Massachusetts license plates, Acton said, pointing to the demand for gaming among the state’s residents.

Since becoming a publicly traded company in February 1994, Harveys has developed resorts in Central City, Colo., and Council Bluffs, Iowa.

It was also a development partner and is a 40 percent owner in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

News of the Massachusetts proposal has been met with apparent apathy on Wall Street, according to one stock market source. Harveys stock remained virtually unchanged Monday at 16 points per share.

During the past 12 months, Harveys stock last June rose to 23 per share and dropped down to 14 in January of this year.

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