The Massachusetts Gaming Commission clashed with Springfield city officials Tuesday over the city’s proposed casino selection competition. The state and local timetables that would lead to the launch of a resort casino development in western Massachusetts remain at odds. WAMC”s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
The state’s gaming industry regulators suggested Springfield apply the brakes to a casino selection process that would out race the state’s due diligence for evaluating the fitness of potential casino operators. City officials strongly defended the process they’ve outlined for evaluating as many as four different casino proposals and coming up with finalists by the end of the year.
During a public meeting in Springfield Tuesday, Gaming Commissioner James McHugh said the city and the commission need to get on the same timetable.
Springfield’s Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy pushed back on suggestions the city put its casino selection process on the backburner.
Springfield officials, following a plan proposed by the city’s casino consultant, want to evaluate casino proposals on a number of criteria, including jobs that would be created and potential economic spin off. The city would then pick one or more developers to negotiate the terms for building a casino. The final proposals, in the form of a host community agreement would be presented to the city council for ratification and then be subject to a binding voter referendum in the Spring
Commissioners said that if the city follows that timetable it could potentially result in the city finalizing a deal with a casino operator before the commission determines if the operator even qualifies for a license in Massachusetts.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said the city does not want to miss out on an economic development opportunity worth potentially a billion dollars given last year’s natural disasters that destroyed large sections of the city.
Springfield officials last week agreed to hold the start of the casino competition at the request of the gaming commission, which scheduled what Chairman Stephen Crosby called Tuesday’s “ fact finding” meeting with city officials. The meeting was held in an auditorium at Springfield Technical Community College.
Springfield officials also defended the hiring of a consultant that is a registered lobbyist in Illinois for two of the casino operators expected to compete in Springfield. The city’s lawyer, Ed Pikula told the commission there is no conflict of interest, because the consultant has issued a full disclosure as required by law.
But chairman Crosby said it may be a case where , as he put it, reasonable people disagree.
Springfield’s casino consultant, the Chicago based law firm, Shefsky and Froelich, has asked for an opinion from the State Ethics Commission. Representatives of the firm told the gaming commission it would make the ethics commission opinion public .