Officials in Springfield Massachusetts are hoping to wrap up negotiations with would-be casino developers in time for a voter referendum to coincide with the June 25 special election for US Senate. City officials are also considering how to spend the financial windfall they hope a casino brings.
Negotiations with casino operators, MGM Resorts and Penn National Gaming are underway, according to the Chicago-based attorney, Cezar Froelich, whose firm has been hired by the city to serve as lead casino consultant. Froelich said the goal remains to seal a deal, or deals, in time to get the casino development issue to voters on June 25th.
The time frame is tight. The Springfield City Council must ratify the deal, or host community agreement as it called, before a voter referendum is called for. State law requires at least a 60 day period from the time a host community agreement is ratified to when it goes before voters. City council president James Ferrera said the council will not be rushed in its due diligence on the casino development.
MGM Resorts and Penn National have proposed competing resort casino developments in different parts of the city’s downtown. MGM’s project is in the South End and Penn National in the North End. Both companies have campaigned to build community support for their projects. Both have made promises about jobs and civic improvements. Froelich said the host community agreement will hold the companies to their words.
The host community agreement will require the casino operator to pay for infrastructure improvements , such as expanded water and sewer pipes or widening streets that are directly impacted by the casino development. Froelich said the city will also ask for a lump sum of money, but will not commit the casino companies to pay for specific projects, such as parks or senior centers.
City councilors had been soliciting suggestions for spending the casino windfall and received dozens of proposals. At a meeting of the council’s casino committee last night, several residents showed up to offer suggestions. Frank Ryan said the wealth should be spread around to all city neighborhoods.
Jose Claudio suggested a three way split of the casino money.
Although the administration of Mayor Domenic Sarno pledged transparency in the casino competition, the negotiations with the casino operators are being tightly guarded. Not only are the operators competing against each other for development rights in Springfield, but there is completion with two other casino projects.
Mohegan Sun is proposing a casino in Palmer and Hard Rock International wants to build a resort on part of the Big E Fairgrounds in West Springfield. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission will award just one casino license in western Massachusetts.