Springfield Puts Temporary Hold On Casino Selection Work

Sep 5, 2012

The city of Springfield Massachusetts put its casino competition on hold Wednesday. The move came one day after the state’s top gambling industry regulators raised questions about the city’s casino selection process.  WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.

   Springfield city officials will delay for at  least a week putting out  a public request for proposals from casino operators. City officials will attend a meeting  of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission on September 11th  in hopes of clearing up questions about the integrity and timetable of the  process that has been announced for evaluating what could be as many as four competing proposals to build a  resort casino valued at more than $500 million.   

   Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno insists the delay is not significant.  

   The  gambling commission urged Springfield officials to delay the start of the casino selection process. The mayor, last month, announced a two phase process for evaluating casino operators and site specific projects  that is to culminate with a binding voter referendum.   The mayor said, today,  he still hopes to hold the referendum by April.

   But the city’s aggressive timetable could see it settling on a casino project before the gaming commission determines if the operator qualifies for a license in Massachusetts.  The other concern has to do with a potential conflict of interest involving the consultant the  Sarno administration hired to help it evaluate the casino proposals. 

   The consultant , Shefsky and Froelich  is registered in Illinois as a  lobbyist for two of the casino operators competing in Springfield, MGM Resorts International and Penn National Gaming.  Springfield’s city solicitor, Ed Pikula said all necessary steps are being taken to avoid any real conflicts of interest, and he’s confident the city will receive unbiased advice.

   The State Ethics Commission has reportedly been asked for an opinion on whether there is a legal conflict of interest involving Springfield’s consultant.  Mayor Sarno wrote a  letter to the gaming commission last week seeking what he called  “ guidance  and clarification” on the hiring of the consultant.

   Springfield City Council President James Ferrera said with the stakes so high, the city can’t  afford missteps

   Ferrera  , who has appointed an ad-hoc committee to review casino proposals and make recommendations on land use issues to the full city council, said he may name a  second panel to look into how  the administration went about hiring the consultant.