Casino builder has Massachusetts roots

Danielle Ameden

He has waltzed into this working-class town with plans for a grand resort casino that would rival the world's best.

He has called it Crossroads, pitched it to selectmen and promised - should the state allow - to build it in a way that makes the community proud.

So who is this ambitious man, Colorado real estate developer David H. Nunes?

He was raised in Massachusetts, and has a portfolio that includes major building projects across the country and experience working with Donald Trump and the Wampanoag Indians on separate casino bids.

"Obviously he does have a base of knowledge in the casino industry, so he's not starting from zero in that regard, and I take him at face value that he's a legitimately interested developer," said selectmen Chairman Brian Murray.

Nunes, 49, grew up in Bolton and graduated with the Class of '78 from Nashoba Regional High School.

At Northeastern University, he studied political science and economics.

He began his career in Washington, D.C., working as a real estate broker before venturing into the development arena.

His work has taken him around the country, and back home to the Bay State.

Locally, Nunes has converted the industrial property at 123 Felton St., Marlborough, to offices. Working as managing partner with Pennsylvania-based O'Neill Properties, he was also a major player in redeveloping the Watertown Arsenal property in the late '90s.

"They gave the town a much better agreement than any of the other developers were proposing," recalled Warren Tolman of Watertown, who was a state senator at the time.

The project involved creating 765,000 square feet of mixed-use office/retail space. Now it's the Arsenal on the Charles and owned by Harvard, its brick buildings home to tenants including the Arsenal Center for the Arts and Boston Sports Club.

Tolman, an attorney with Holland & Knight in Boston, said he was impressed by Nunes.

"I liked him a lot," Tolman said. "He did what he said he was going to do, he followed through."

Nunes, owner of Ajax Gaming Ventures, has now partnered with Las Vegas casino industry executive William W. Warner to work on building Crossroads. The project, they told Milford selectmen last month, involves an $800 million first phase, and ultimately, they said, 5,000 slot machines, 250 table games, several thousand highrise hotel rooms, 13 restaurants and other amenities. (By comparison, the Foxwoods casino in Connecticut has 7,600 slot machines, and Mohegan Sun, also in Connecticut, has 6,600).

Murray, whose board met with Nunes and Warner last month, said he likes that the developer is a local guy. He sees it as a potential benefit.

"He will be more in tune to the kind of things that people around here are concerned with," Murray said.

Nunes is no stranger to casino proposals.

He has worked with Donald Trump in Johnston, R.I., and with the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe on Martha's Vineyard on two separate, unsuccessful bids to open big gambling facilities.

"I've watched hundreds of millions of dollars float over the borders to Connecticut and Rhode Island," Nunes said. He said he has a vested interest in seeing Massachusetts capture money being lost, and thinks a casino in Milford, at the crossroads of I-495 and I-90, is the way to do it.

"This has been a labor of love," he said.

"We'd do very well," Nunes added. "Massachusetts residents have a great propensity to gamble."

Tolman said he is interested in what Nunes and Warner have proposed for Milford: a Foxwoods-style destination that could be Massachusetts' first.

"It seems like an ideal location," he said.

Warner, meanwhile, brings to the table real industry experience.

"Probably the most important reason why I selected Bill is the fact that the gaming market is no longer about the destination resort, but it's kind of about managing local expectations and local casino markets," Nunes said.

Warner made his name at Station Casinos, headquartered in Las Vegas, as the chief operating officer and chief development officer. He has since founded Warner Gaming.

"The fact that we are out of the box and we have identified Milford and have property there under option has obviously ignited a great deal of interest in the Crossroads project nationally," Nunes said.

As the two focus their attention on the Milford proposal, Warner recently withdrew his bid to take over the Twin River slot parlor in Rhode Island.

With all eyes on the Massachusetts Legislature as it debates whether to expand gambling in the state and allow resort casinos, Nunes said his team is hard at work.

They have hired Credit Suisse to help work up a debt and equity financing plan for their project.

Nunes hasn't set another date to return to Milford, but he said he looks forward to working closely with the town.

"I plan to be back to Milford often," he said.

He joked that he lives on airplanes, traveling so often for work. He said he chose to settle in Missouri Heights, Colo., just outside Aspen, for its quality of life. His office is in nearby Basalt.

Nunes said he spent every summer growing up on Cape Cod, and is close to the Kennedy family. He described the late Sen. Edward Kennedy as a dear friend.

"I love Massachusetts," he said. "It's a place that's very near and dear to my heart."

Danielle Ameden can be reached at 508-634-7521 or