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Springfield Casino Vote Looms

MGM Resorts - High angle view, South End of SpringfieldWith Springfield’s referendum vote on a casino resort set for July 16, time is running out for both pro- and anti-casino lobbyists to get their message out.

It’s been a long, sometimes annoying slugfest, with emotions running high on both sides. Even the date of the casino vote hasn’t gone without controversy, as the anti-casino group Citizens Against Casino Gambling have argued that a pushback to a November vote would provide a larger turnout of voters.

Unlike past years, when the casino debate was dominated by vague concepts and proposals that largely turned off city residents, the pro-casino lobbyists this time around appear to have an edge on casino opponents. From an activist mayor (who has joined up with MGM Resorts in a “Yes to Springfield” marketing campaign) to a seemingly pro-casino daily newspaper (which continues to rah-rah resort developers, despite losing their own part in the development sweepstakes), these guys are fighting to win.

The Sarno Administration in particular is eager to see MGM Resorts come to the city. If things go the way pro-casino advocates say they will, the city would see a significant growth in its annual revenue over time. That’s money in the coffers for city departments stretched thin for years, and something Mayor Sarno himself could hold bragging rights to as a part of his legacy in Springfield.

But even if the city’s residents approve of the MGM Resorts proposal, there remains one last hurtle in the casino lobbyists bid: the approval of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

Two other casino proposals in the region – West Springfield’s Hard Rock International plan and Palmer’s Mohegan Sun offering – are competing for the single resort site being reserved for the western part of the state. And both these sites are starting off with far more acreage than MGM Resorts:

  • Mohegan Sun – 152 acres (Wow!)
  • Hard Rock International – 38 acres (Interesting…)
  • MGM Resorts – 14.5 acres (Huh?)

Of the three candidates, Mohegan Sun’s proposal seems to be the most promising as far as state revenue is concerned. (All of the proposed resorts have promised the same number of permanent jobs, at 3,000.) Their proposed site is vastly larger than either Springfield’s or West Springfield’s, with room to grow afterward. But the hook here is that the state may be looking at other factors besides potential income to the state. If the Gaming Commission also considers the urban renewal aspects of the casino resort competition, Springfield may gain a considerable edge — this despite there being little-to-no evidence whatsoever that a casino’s presence in a city is beneficial to those living there.

For better or worse, though, Springfield may be well on its way to finding out on its own.

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