Voters in West Springfield are going to the polls today for the latest casino referendum in western Massachusetts.
Voting was described as steady by election officials and appeared, as of mid-afternoon, to be on pace to reach the 40 percent turnout predicted by the Town Clerk for today’s referendum on Hard Rock’s proposal to build a resort casino on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition. Polls are open until 8 p.m.
Hard Rock New England President Tim Maland said he was a bit nervous about the outcome of today’s referendum.
Hard Rock spent nearly $1 million on the referendum campaign for advertising, and a get-out-the vote operation run by a political campaign consultant.
No Casino West Springfield reported spending just $2,000. Still, Nathan Bech, the head of the group, said it had successfully spread its anti-casino message with a grass roots effort that saw volunteers knock on their neighbors’ doors in the town of 30,000 people.
In the campaign, Hard Rock stressed the thousands of jobs the casino would provide and the $18 million that is to be paid annually to West Springfield under the terms of the development agreement negotiated with Mayor Gregory Neffinger. Hard Rock will also spend $35 million on infrastructure to improve traffic flow around the Big E Fairgrounds.
Casino opponents have stressed traffic concerns and the social ills they say West Springfield will be forced to cope with if it becomes home to a large gambling venue.
A random sampling of voters found strong opinions on both sides.
State law requires voters in a host community to ratify the casino development agreement before the operator can apply for a license. Voters in Springfield in July approved the development agreement between MGM and the city. A referendum is set for November 5th on Mohegan Sun’s casino project in Palmer.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is expected to award the lone casino license available in western Massachusetts by April 2014.