Voters in Springfield, Massachusetts go to the polls today for a referendum on MGM Resorts’ proposal to build an $800 million resort casino in the city’s downtown. State law gives local voters the right to weigh in before a developer can even apply for a casino license.
The vote today in Springfield is a pivotal step in the process of bringing a resort casino to western Massachusetts. If voters say “yes” MGM can apply to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission for the lone casino license available in western Massachusetts. If voters say “no” the Springfield casino project is dead in its tracks.
On the eve of the vote, MGM CEO James Murran was confident.
MGM poured $1 million into the “Vote Yes for Springfield” campaign. There was a six week advertizing blitz. Volunteers knocked on more than 28,000 doors and made thousands of phone calls. MGM executives met with key neighborhood and civic groups to secure endorsements.
The Nevada-based company promotes the Springfield project as an engine of economic development, saying it will create thousands of jobs in a city where the unemployment rate is over 10 percent. Murran said it will restore vitality to a downtown that saw its better days a generation ago.
Casino opponents, including several members of the faith-based community, contend the project is the wrong kind of economic development for Springfield. They say a casino will lead to more crime, addiction, personal bankruptcy and lower property values.
Michael Kogut, chairman of Citizens Against Casino Gaming, has often described the fight as “David and Goliath” . But he said as of late the anti-casino message is getting out and momentum against MGM’s project is building.
While MGM remains confident of a win at the polls today, CEO Murran said MGM is looking for a big win to send the message to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission that Springfield wants a casino.
Kogut also believes the margin between the “ yes” and “no” votes matters.
Two other casino operators have planted flags in western Massachusetts. Hard Rock International hopes to hold a voter referendum on September 10th for its project in West Springfield. No date has been set for a vote in Palmer on Mohegan Sun’s casino project.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno has put his political capital on the line for the MGM casino project. After negotiating a deal that commits MGM to annual payments to the city of $24 million in addition to paying for public safety and infrastructure upgrades, Sarno has appeared in ads and at pro-casino rallies urging a “yes” vote.
Tim Vercellotti, director of the Western New England University Polling Institute said his research shows the higher today’s turnout, the more likely the MGM referendum passes.
A poll published last weekend by the Springfield Republican found 55 percent of likely voters in Springfield supported the casino project versus 35 percent who did not.
The polls in Springfield are open until 8 p.m.