Concerned that no viable casino proposals will emerge in the Fall River/New Bedford area, state gambling regulators are considering delaying awarding the region's lone casino license another six months.
The members of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission voiced support Thursday for pushing back the application deadline from Sept. 23 to March. The five-member panel had already pushed back the deadline from July.
The commission is also considering reopening the process to new applicants and making further changes to the minimum required capital investment of $500 million to attract other developers.
At least three projects in the region have been proposed, but no plans have been presented to local voters for approval, a key step in the licensing process. Backers of the proposals need to complete agreements with their host cities by mid-July if they are to stay on track under the current licensing timeline.
Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby said the commission will ask its legal staff to research the proposed changes and seek comment from the public before making a final decision in about two weeks.
When the commission delayed the region's licensing process to September, Fall River officials objected while New Bedford officials and some gambling companies supported it.
The discussion comes after Claremont Companies, a real estate investment firm headquartered in Bridgewater, and Clairvest Group, a Canadian private equity firm, called on the commission this week to re-start the application process.
Claremont wants to develop a casino on its roughly 170-acre headquarters, but has been looking for a casino operator to partner with.
Only gambling operators that met last year's deadline for initial applications or were rejected in one of the state's other two casino regions can seek the southeast license at this point.
Foxwoods unveiled plans for a $750 million resort casino in Fall River after voters in Milford - part of the eastern casino region - rejected a $1 billion proposal from the Connecticut-based casino operator last year.
And KG Urban Enterprises, a New York-based real estate development firm, filed an initial application last year for a casino on a former power plant on New Bedford's waterfront. But it still needs to secure a casino operator.
Interest in the license has been comparatively less intense than in the eastern and western regions because the southeast, which includes Cape Cod and its surrounding islands, faces a number of unique challenges.
Any new casino in the region would compete with Twin River Casino in neighboring Rhode Island, as well as the two Indian tribe-owned casinos in Connecticut - Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe also wants to open a casino in Taunton.