Opponents of casino gambling rallied supporters in Springfield, Massachusetts last night where a citywide referendum on MGM Resorts’ $800 million casino development is less than three weeks away.
A crowd of about 300 people sat in the sweltering hot sanctuary of Christ Church Cathedral and applauded as speakers denounced what they said were the false promises of the gambling industry.
The July 16th casino referendum in Springfield was framed as a “David and Goliath” battle, with the Episcopal Bishop of Western Massachusetts Douglas Fisher warning that a casino in Springfield would be “bad news for the poor.” Casino opponents were encouraged to not give up hope.
The forum, sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts featured speeches from two nationally prominent gambling opponents and the head of a local political committee that is working to defeat the casino referendum in Springfield.
Former Massachusetts Attorney General, and former President of Common Cause, Scott Harshbarger said the casino battle is a marathon not a sprint, so people should not be disheartened if the referendum on MGM’s casino passes.
Harshbarger, a Democrat, said there is still hope the Massachusetts Gaming Commission could reject MGM’s casino license application. And, he said there is a movement by casino gambling opponents in Massachusetts to put a referendum on the 2014 election ballot to repeal the state’s casino law.
Harshbarger said the more people know the less support there is for casinos.
The casino development agreement negotiated between MGM and the administration of Mayor Domenic Sarno commits MGM to creating 2000 construction jobs and 3000 permanent jobs. The casino will purchase $50 million in goods and services from local businesses, sponsor a dozen entertainment shows a year at existing venues, and give Springfield $24 million a year in taxes and other payments.
Another speaker at the forum was former Congressman Bob Steele who has chronicled Connecticut’s experience with casino gambling. He said tax revenue from the two casinos has been plummeting.
Springfield attorney Michael Kogut, who is chairman of the political committee “ Citizens Against Casino Gaming,” said the anti-casino campaign is growing. He said people have been signing up at the organization’s website and Facebook page.
MGM has spent a reported $10 million to market its casino project in Springfield. The casino developer was soliciting support at Springfield polling places during the special Senate election this week and has been canvassing door-to-door.
MGM representatives and Mayor Sarno have turned down requests from casino opponents to participate in debates prior to the July 16th vote.