NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (AP) _ Residents on both sides of the debate over a proposed, $650 million Foxwoods resort casino for New Bedford's waterfront are steadily turning out to vote Tuesday.

Supporters say a casino is the best chance to create new jobs and investment and entertainment options in a city with one of the highest unemployment rates in the state.

``New Bedford needs to make a change,'' said Robert Gifford after casting his `yes' vote at a polling place in the city's northern edge. ``We don't have many choices. Maybe we do, but I just don't see it. Where else are we going to get the jobs and the revenue?''

But opponents say they're concerned that a casino would only lead to more crime and traffic.

``The city's got enough problems. This is only going to make things worse,'' said Sean Peters after casting his ``no'' vote at a downtown polling place near City Hall.

Elections officials say turnout early in the day had been light to moderate.

But they were expecting that to pick up as the day progresses, with a projected 22 percent of New Bedford's nearly 54,000 registered voters projected to cast ballots in the special referendum.

Polls opened 7 a.m. and the city will be posting vote results on its website shortly after polls close at 8 p.m.

Voter approval is critical for the plan to advance in the competition for the state's third and final resort casino license.

If approved, it would compete with one proposed for nearby Brockton that already has been approved by voters.

The New Bedford vote comes during a critical week for Massachusetts' nascent casino industry, which kicks off Wednesday with the opening of Plainridge Park Casino, a slots parlor in Plainville, a southeastern Massachusetts town not far from New Bedford.

MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts also have state licenses to build major casinos in the coming years.

MGM is developing an $800 million resort in Springfield while Wynn has proposed a $1.7 billion resort in Everett, near the Boston area.

The New Bedford plan calls for a glitzy resort on a roughly 43 acre site that includes a former NStar power plant.

Foxwoods, the casino company run by a Connecticut tribe, has agreed to manage the operation but the development would be undertaken by KG Urban Enterprises, a New York development group that includes former Foxwoods CEO Scott Butera.

The company wants to dramatically remake New Bedford's waterfront, which is still home to one of the country's most lucrative commercial fishing ports.

To get to this stage, KG Urban has reached a so-called ``host community agreement'' with New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell's administration that calls for $4.5 million in initial payments if it wins the casino license.

The company would then pay the city at least $12.5 million annually once the casino opens, on top of paying real estate taxes and investing millions of dollars into public waterfront improvements and related environmental cleanup.