The five member Massachusetts Gaming Commission held a forum Wednesday in western Massachusetts. It’s the area of the state where competition for a lucrative casino license appears to be most keen.. WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
The chairman of the powerful gaming commission, Stephen Crosby said the apparent level of interest in western Massachusetts by major casino operators is proof the state’s new casino law is working as intended.
Crosby defended the pace of the casino licensing process ,which has been criticized by labor leaders and some municipal officials anxious for the jobs and revenue promised by supporters of the casino law when it passed last year after decades of debate.
According to the commission’s current timetable, casino licenses won’t be awarded until late 2014. One license is available in each of three geographic regions, with the southeastern region’s license reserved for the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Tribe.
The casino licensing process in Massachusetts will mark a milestone tomorrow when casino companies can give the commission a $400,000 check , which is non-refundable, to become certified applicants. Commissioner Bruce Stebbins said this will allow the companies that are certified to hold discussions with state agencies on transportation, environmental and other issues related to their projects.
The gaming commissioners held a forum Wednesday on the campus of Western New England University in Springfield. With more than 100 people in the audience, an official said it was the best attended of any of the five educational forum’s the commission has held around the state. Another sign of the level of interest in a western Massachusetts casino.
During the forum, separate panels of experts discussed ways for communities to mitigate the negative effects of casinos on communities, training a workforce for casino jobs, and how to connect casinos to the state’s hospitality and tourism industry.
Speros Batistatos , is the head of a convention and visitors authority in northwest Indiana, just out side Chicago, a region where there are five casinos. He said when destination resort casinos are built in Massachusetts people will come, but the local tourism officials will have to work hard to get them to other attractions.
Judy Matt, president of the Spirit of Springfield, a non-profit that promotes big crowd drawing events, such as a holiday light show and Fourth of July fireworks said she would welcome a casino in Springfield.
About a dozen people , holding signs outside the campus building where the forum was held protested the possibility of a casino coming to Springfield.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno has rolled out the red carpet for casino developers and several major casino companies have looked at potential sites. One company, Ameristar of Nevada, has purchased a former industrial site on the city’s east side for a casino development.
Mohegan Sun of Connecticut has been actively pursuing a casino project in the town of Palmer for several years. A group of people wearing yellow t-shirts and holding yellow signs, reading “ Palmer First” demonstrated at Wednesday’s forum in favor of the casino project.