The state law that legalized casino gambling in Massachusetts requires voters in a host community to approve the casino development in a referendum. The law permits cities , such as Springfield, to hold either an at-large vote or limit it to just the ward where the casino would be built. WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno is adamant the voter referendum on whether there should be a casino built in Springfield will be held city-wide.
Springfield City Councilors earlier this month, where expected to endorse a city-wide casino vote, but instead sent it to committee for study and a series of public hearings to take place in various neighborhoods. The first of the public hearings will be this Thursday.
The council committee that is to study the issue, is chaired by city councilor Bud Williams, who says he personally favors a city wide vote, but is keeping an open mind.
At least four casino operators are expected to compete for a license to build a resort casino in Springfield. City officials, who say it would be the largest single economic development project in the city’s history, worth potentially $1 billion have set an Oct. 10 deadline for initial proposals. After a rigorous review, the mayor by early next year will select one or more projects to move forward.
When the state law was written, it was expected that a community would partner with a single casino operator and compete against other communities to obtain a state license from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. Only one license is allotted for western Massachusetts. Legislators acknowledge they did not anticipate the scenario that is playing out in Springfield.
Springfield city solicitor Ed Pikula said it is unclear what might happen if voters were presented with more than one casino project and endorsed both.
Springfield Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy believes the casino referendum could occur in June.
A Springfield attorney, Michael Kogut, filed legal paperwork with the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s office to register a political committee, called “ Citizens Against Casino Gaming” The committee will work to defeat the casino referendum when it goes before Springfield voters.
The Council of Churches of Greater Springfield has also launched an anti-casino effort.