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Mohegan Sun casino proposal approved in Revere

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Photo - Revere, Mass. Mayor Dan Rizzo speaks to cheering supporters at Suffolk Downs in Revere on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, as they celebrate the passage of a referendum allowing the Mohegan Sun to move forward with its $1.3 billion proposal in Revere and compete with Wynn Resorts for the sole eastern Massachusetts resort casino. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Revere, Mass. Mayor Dan Rizzo speaks to cheering supporters at Suffolk Downs in Revere on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, as they celebrate the passage of a referendum allowing the Mohegan Sun to move forward with its $1.3 billion proposal in Revere and compete with Wynn Resorts for the sole eastern Massachusetts resort casino. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
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REVERE, Mass. (AP) — Voters in Revere approved a resort casino proposal on Tuesday, keeping alive Mohegan Sun's $1.3 billion project and setting the stage for a competition with Wynn Resorts for the sole eastern Massachusetts resort casino license.

Unofficial returns showed more than 63 percent of city voters backing the casino, which would be built on land owned by the Suffolk Downs, said Mitchell Etess, chief executive of the Mohegan Sun Tribal Gaming Authority.

Etess told jubilant supporters at the racetrack that he now expected to convince state gambling regulators to award the Connecticut-based firm the license.

"We're going to win this license because our application to Massachusetts is unconditional," Etess said. "We are ready to go."

It was the second casino vote in Revere in recent months. In November, voters approved an earlier proposal from Suffolk Downs on the Boston-Revere line, but voters in the East Boston neighborhood rejected it. The new plan puts the proposed casino entirely in Revere.

Strong feelings were evident on both sides in the blue collar city of about 53,000 residents just north of Boston. Home to Revere Beach, the nation's first public beach, the city has struggled economically in recent decades and had an estimated unemployment rate of 7.2 percent at the end of 2013, according to state figures.

Along a section of Broadway, one of the city's main arteries, casino backers and foes held signs during the day Tuesday on opposite sides of the roadway, near a polling place. Motorists would occasionally honk horns to signal support for one group or the other.

Kevin Russell, a Revere resident and union carpenter, said the casino would be a "win-win" for the city, with the potential to create new jobs and generate revenue that would lead to lower property taxes and water bills. He dismissed critics' concerns that the facility could bring an uptick in crime.

"They're not going to build a billion-dollar casino to have bad elements there," said Russell. "They want to bring in the good element with people coming from out of state, flying in, driving down."

Members of Revere's clergy came out strongly against the casino in recent weeks, citing the dangers of gambling addiction and other social ills.

"It's a slayer of souls," said the Rev. George Szal, of the Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church, as he held a sign urging a no vote. "It's a slayer of families and ultimately of the community itself."

Mayor Dan Rizzo said the casino would secure the city's economic future for generations, pointing to a host community agreement with Mohegan Sun that would guarantee Revere up to $33 million in upfront payments and between $25 million and $30 million in annual payments if the casino was built.

"Today Revere said yes to Mohegan Sun," Rizzo said. "Today Revere said yes to jobs. Today Revere said yes to better schools and safer streets."

The victory also keeps alive, at least for now, the future of racing at Suffolk Downs. Officials at New England's only thoroughbred track have said they will almost certainly be forced to end racing if the casino license is not awarded to Mohegan Sun.

"Second chances are a great thing in life," said Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer of Suffolk Downs, which almost saw its hopes dashed with the defeat in East Boston in November.

Tuesday's vote was also a reversal of fortune for Mohegan Sun, which saw an earlier Massachusetts casino proposal rejected by the town of Palmer.

Wynn Resorts has proposed a $1.6 billion resort casino in Everett, barely three miles from the Revere site.

The gaming commission on Tuesday separately began final deliberations on the awarding of the license for the only slots parlor — a smaller type of casino — that is allowed under the state's gambling law. The panel is choosing between proposals in Leominster, Plainville and Raynham, with a decision expected by Friday.

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