Clergy in western Massachusetts vow to spread an anti-casino message in advance of next Tuesday’s voter referendum in Springfield on MGM Resorts’ $800 million project. The casino operator on Monday promoted opportunities for minority and women owned businesses.
Pastors representing the Council of Churches of Western Massachusetts announced plans at a Monday news conference to hold an anti-casino rally, stage leaflet drops, publish a position paper and have people stand in front of dozens of churches this weekend holding signs urging a “no” vote next Tuesday.
Rev. Douglas Fisher, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts said it is not too late for the anti-casino message to resonate even after the nearly year- long multimillion dollar marketing effort by MGM
The pastors said they believe anti-casino voters will be more motivated to go to the polls Tuesday because of the widely held assumption the referendum will pass.
An anti-casino rally is planned for tomorrow afternoon in Court Square in downtown Springfield. About 300 people attended an anti-casino forum last month sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese.
Archbishop Timothy Paul, President of the Council of Churches of Western Massachusetts said the opposition is more than a moral question. He cited a litany of social ills he claims studies have linked to casinos including increases in problem gambling, violent crime, personal bankruptcies and homelessness.
MGM’s development agreement with the city of Springfield commits it to create 2,000 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent jobs, a powerful allure in a city where the unemployment rate last month was over 10 percent. In addition MGM will make annual payments to Springfield totaling more than $24 million and pay for other amenities such as an outdoor ice-skating rink.
The project has received strong backing from Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and has been endorsed by many business, civic and neighborhood groups. The Springfield Republican urged a “yes” vote in an editorial in Sunday’s paper.
Michael Mathis, Vice President of Global Gaming Development for MGM said he respectfully disagreed with the casino opponents.
MGM and the Springfield branch of the NAACP co-sponsored a program Monday for minority and women owned businesses to discuss how they can go about doing business with the casino.
NAACP Springfield Chapter President Talbert Swan said MGM has a good track record of vendor diversity
The development agreement between MGM and the city commits the company to purchase $50 million annually in goods and services from local companies. 10 percent of the business must go to minority owned businesses, 15 percent to women owned businesses, and 2 percent to businesses owned by military veterans.
If the referendum passes on July 16th MGM can apply to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission for the lone casino license available in western Massachusetts. Other casino projects are being pursued in the region by Mohegan Sun and Hard Rock International.