City officials in Springfield, Massachusetts have begun a voter education campaign in advance of the July 16th referendum on the casino project proposed by MGM Resorts. Supporters of a rival casino project in western Massachusetts are also gearing up for a referendum campaign, although no date has been set for the vote in Palmer.
Letters have been mailed to almost 60,000 households in Springfield to notify voters that a special election has been scheduled for July 16th on whether to allow MGM Resorts to build a casino in the south end of the city’s downtown. The letters were put in the mail Friday according to Springfield Election Commissioner Gladys Oyola who said it is part of a $75,000 voter education campaign that state law requires MGM to pay for.
The letter alerts voters to the date of the referendum, the polling hours, voter registration information, and the city’s website where full details about MGM’s proposal can be found. MGM wants to build an $800 million development complete with a gaming floor, a hotel, restaurants, a movie theater, bowling alley and other amenities.
The letter also explains that the vote is being held despite the fact that MGM has not been qualified by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to hold a casino license in the state. The commission is still conducting background checks on MGM and the other 10 companies that filed applications for gaming licenses last January. The investigations are not expected to be completed until late this summer.
Springfield City Solicitor Ed Pikula said voters are being informed that Mayor Domenic Sarno and the city council both approved holding the voter referendum before the state’s investigation of MGM is complete.
The letter, signed by Mayor Sarno, explains that the gaming commission investigates casino license applicants for integrity, honesty, character, reputation, financial stability, business practices, and history with gaming license requirements in other jurisdictions.
MGM officials say they are confident the company will be cleared to hold a casino license in Massachusetts. Springfield city officials say they have no reservations about holding the vote before the state’s background investigation is finished.
Pikula has also sent a letter to city employees warning them not to run afoul of campaign finance or ethics laws during the casino referendum. Pikula said the law forbids public employees from acting in their official capacity on any election related political activity.
Pikula said the warning was not prompted by any complaints about improper electioneering by city workers.
If the voter referendum is approved on July 16th, and MGM passes the gaming commission’s background investigation, the company can apply for the lone casino license authorized in western Massachusetts.
Competition is expected to come from Palmer, where Mohegan Sun has proposed a casino. Jennifer Baruffaldi, a spokesperson for two pro-casino groups in Palmer ,said a voter referendum will likely take place in September, assuming a development deal is finalized by July.
Barruffaldi said the pro-casino groups are planning to hold voter information meetings in the run up to the referendum.
Hard Rock International has proposed a casino development in West Springfield, but no timetable has been announced for a referendum.