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Gary Trask

Gary  Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's Editor in Chief and has worked as a writer and editor more than 25 years. The Boston native was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's inaugural Media Committee.

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Casino Openings & Expansions: First Light Resort & Casino breaks ground in Massachusetts

11 Apr 2016

By Gary Trask
TAUNTON, MA – The controversial and often messy race to open the first luxury resort casino in Massachusetts appears to have a new leader.

Standing inside a temporary tent jammed with fellow tribal members, gaming officials, and city and state leaders last Tuesday, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell couldn't help but smile widely as he exulted, "We did it!"

With those three words, the joyous crowd cheered wildly. It then outdid itself moments later, when Cromwell put on a hard hat and climbed into an excavator to personally begin the dirty work for the First Light Resort & Casino that is being developing along with Malaysia-based Genting Group and is scheduled to open in four phases, the first in summer 2017. Cromwell's destruction of the vacant building that will be replaced by this $1 billion project put an exclamation point on a 90-minute groundbreaking that was festive and celebratory, and which included plenty of bravado statements.

A rendering of the new venue in Taunton, scheduled to open in the summer of 2017.

A rendering of the new venue in Taunton, scheduled to open in the summer of 2017.

"It's been a long road," said Taunton Mayor Tom Hoye. "I think people kind of forgot about us at some point along the way. All we've been hearing about is the project in Springfield, and we've heard all about the barbs being thrown around in Everett. And we've heard all about another project in Brockton. But guess who's going to be the first to market?"

First Light Resort & Casino will feature 3,000 slot machines, 150 table games, 40 poker tables, 300 luxury guest rooms, nine retail stores, fine dining, and a spa and water park.

"It will rival any casino resort in the country," Cromwell said boldly.

In addition, First Light will produce numerous benefits to the region. According to the tribe, which is known as "People of the First Light" and which traces its ancestry back to Native Americans who encountered the Pilgrims 400 years ago, the resort will have a "multiplier effect," bringing $140 million in economic activity and providing $2.1 billion to the state for economic development, education, transportation and tourism.

Hoye added that the project will create 1,000 construction jobs and 2,600 permanent jobs, as well as $8 million a year in revenue to the city, along with 20 new police officers and 25 firefighters.

Unlike the state's nearby cities that Hoye mentioned, which have resort casino plans in the making, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe did not need approval from the state's gaming commission to build the resort. Back in September, the federal government agreed to acquire 151 acres in Taunton into trust for the tribe, as well as 170 acres of sovereign land in Mashpee for tribal governmental, cultural and conservation purposes.

But that doesn't mean the other projects won't have their own groundbreaking ceremonies someday soon. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission already issued a license to MGM to build in Springfield, 80 miles from Taunton. Although work is underway on the $950 million project, it has suffered numerous delays and is now slated for a late 2018 grand opening. Despite receiving a similar license to build and operate a casino resort in the outskirts of Boston, Wynn Resorts has faced an array of legal battles and obstacles in Everett, and that $2 billion project isn't expected to break ground until July.

And within weeks, the commission is expected to decide if it will grant a third license in Brockton, just 30 miles away from where First Light is being built, where Mass Gaming & Entertainment hopes to build a $677 million venue. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe reached an agreement to pay 17% of its gambling revenue to Massachusetts if the state does not license a competitor in the region, but if it does, that deal comes off the table.

Above all of that is a legal challenge awaiting the tribe, funded by the developers of the potential Brockton casino, which aims to stop the First Light construction in its tracks. What's more, First Light Resort & Casino will face competition from two existing venues that both sit within 35 miles: Plainridge Park Casino, a harness horse racing track 23 miles away that added 1,200 gaming machines in June of 2015 and Twin River Casino, a 300,000 square-foot gaming space in Lincoln, Rhode Island with more than 4,000 gaming machines, a poker room and 14 restaurants and bars.

But none of the above was mentioned during Tuesday's ceremony. This was a day to celebrate and that's exactly what the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe did, concluded the day with 34 dignitaries, tribal members and politicians receiving a shovel to dig into the soil.

"The Wampanoag people have lived off this land for 12,000 years," Cromwell said. "And though some doubted we would ever see this day come to pass, here we are — on track to open a first-class resort and be the first to market."

* * *

While Wynn Resorts has faced many stumbling blocks in Massachusetts, it hasn't slowed the company down back in Las Vegas.

Wynn Paradise Park would be built where The Wynn Golf Club currently sits.

Wynn Paradise Park would be built where The Wynn Golf Club currently sits.

Last week, Wynn Las Vegas announced plans for a new entertainment destination called Wynn Paradise Park.

"We have a chance to reinvent Las Vegas and make the whole venue an entertainment attraction," said Steve Wynn in a statement. "People come to Las Vegas from all over the world to live large and have a good time, and we can dish up an irresistible entertainment attraction."

The development, subject to approval by the company's Board of Directors, would be built on the 130 acres where The Wynn Golf Club currently sits and will include a 38-acre lagoon, surrounded by 260,000 square feet of meetings and convention space; a 1,000-room hotel tower; a small casino; and a collection of dining and nightlife options.

The lagoon will be lined by a white sand beach and boardwalk and feature daytime activities such as water skiing, paddle boarding and parasailing. At night, the space will transform with an elaborate fireworks display that is launched from the 120-foot center island and surrounding areas.

In addition, the resort is developing Wynn Plaza, a retail complex encompassing 75,518 square feet on Las Vegas Boulevard that is expected to open in the fall of 2017.

* * *

In Las Vegas, pool season is here, and a number of casinos are unveiling new venues and amenities.

Tropicana Las Vegas introduced the Sky Beach Club last week, bringing a "South Beach-inspired" venue to the property. Complete with bikini-clad waitresses delivering bottle service, two pools, VIP cabanas, a DJ booth and two new bars, Sky Beach Club will also feature live musical acts, beer pong and table games. The club is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., weather permitting.

Downtown Grand Las Vegas opened Citrus at the Grand Pool Deck in March.

Downtown Grand Las Vegas opened Citrus at the Grand Pool Deck in March.

• In June, The Plaza Hotel and Casino will open The Pool and the Plaza. The new rooftop pool experience will include the addition of cabana suites complete with TVs and refrigerators, lily pad daybeds, dining areas, bars, pickle ball, basketball, tennis, and stage and event space on the resort's newly resurfaced 70,000 square-foot pool deck. The area will be open to all ages, and non-guests will have access for an undetermined fee.

• Also in the Fremont Street area, the Downtown Grand Las Vegas debuted Citrus at the Grand Pool Deck in March. Sprawling on the roof of the casino in a 35,000 square-foot space with skyline views of downtown Las Vegas, Citrus at the Grand Pool is an "urban pool retreat" with private cabanas, a full bar, fire pit, grass seating area, infinity pool and a variety of activities like foosball, corn hole and ping pong. The space is full of trees and foliage as well as organic herb gardens that are incorporated into the menu. The entire patio-length bar has been transformed into a lemonade stand, offering freshly squeezed lemonades and refreshers. There is also a regular lineup of live entertainment with weekend DJs and concerts. Citrus at the Grand Pool Deck is open daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Hotel guests and local residents receive free admission.

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