Communities that surround Milford could have several months and an opportunity to get outside financing to consider the impacts of a casino development, on issues including traffic and public safety.
But if Milford voters agree to move ahead on a proposed casino, the surrounding towns would have to reach an agreement on mitigating impacts with that developer, or face binding arbitration, under a proposal being considered by the state's gaming authorities.
The proposed framework for so-called "surrounding community" agreements, and procedures, was discussed at length Thursday by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and its staff.
Milford is a potential host community for a resort casino, under an application submitted to the state by developer David Nunes for "Crossroads Massachusetts." The Gaming Commission is now evaluating the finances and regulatory history of Nunes and his partners, which now include Foxwoods Casino. The proposal is one of three competing for the single license available for a resort casino in the Eastern Massachusetts region.
The Crossroads proposal would place the casino development on land east of Interstate 495 and north of Route 16, on a site adjacent to Holliston. Nunes as yet has not disclosed the scope of his project to town officials or media. The Phase I application he submitted on Jan. 15 has not yet been made public by the commission.
On Thursday, the Gaming Commission focused on the process that a surrounding community will follow. These communities could include towns that are both adjacent to, and impacted, by a casino development, and could potentially include Hopkinton, Holliston, as well as other towns near Milford.
In the meeting Thursday, the Gaming Commission discussed the proposed process for surrounding towns:
Short of being named a surrounding community by the developer in its application, or reaching an early agreement with a developer, towns can seek a surrounding community status after the developer has filed the Phase 2 application, having reached an agreement with a host community, said the commission's executive director, Rick Day.
Prior to that, the surrounding towns can receive $50,000 of the developer's funds to study the impacts, by either reaching an agreement with the developer on how the money will be spent, or by making a case to the Gaming Commission that it has a "reasonable likelihood" of being designated a surrounding community, and that if it doesn't get the money, it won't be able to study the impacts, he said.
Once a host community reaches an agreement, and schedules the public vote, the host agreement is forwarded to the state Gaming Commission and posted on its website. The communities surrounding the site town would then have 10 days to apply for a designation as a surrounding community.
The public vote in the host town could take another 60 to 90 days. During that time, commission staff said, the surrounding communities could be working with the developer on agreements.
The Gaming Commission will decide whether towns qualify as surrounding communities. An approval by the commission of that designation would then trigger a 30-day window for the developer and surrounding town to reach an agreement. If that fails, the matter heads to binding arbitration, in which the surrounding town and the developer would each present a "best and final offer," Day said.
"That is to encourage the parties to reach their own agreement and not end up in a situation where the arbitrator is forced to choose one," Day said.
Under binding arbitration, within 20 days, the arbitrator chooses one side or the other. The Gaming Commission would then accept the decision of the arbitrator, after a brief period — just five days — in which the town and developer, once again, could try to reach agreement.
The Gaming Commission would not have the authority to overrule the arbitrator's decision, commissioners said.
The process is designed to bring surrounding towns and the developer to the table, to reach an agreement, said Stephen Crosby, the Gaming Commission chairman, who likened the procedure to baseball arbitration.
"It's like baseball arbitration," he said. "You force people to negotiate toward the center."