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Massachusetts Gaming Commission Debates Policy Questions

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The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has begun several days of meetings  to address dozens of policy questions.   It’s a prelude to the commissioners writing the final regulations to fully implement the year old gambling law and license resort casinos.   WAMC”s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.

       The gaming commissioners, meeting in Boston, voted unanimously Tuesday to set a policy that bans a community from holding a referendum on a casino project until it has been determined the developer is suitable to hold a gaming license in Massachusetts. 

       There were complaints from some communities contemplating casinos, and representatives of the construction trade that the policy interferes with local control over casino projects.  Commissioner James McHugh said it would not be a good use of public energy to have a vote before the  qualification process is done.

       The gaming commission plans to begin investigations into the finances and history of casino operators who have paid a non-refundable $400,000 license application fee by a January 15 deadline. Companies must pass the background checks  in order to be qualified to hold a casino license, but can not actually apply for a license until a site specific project is approved by voters in the host community.

       Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby said the policy extends to all communities, an agreement commissioners made earlier with Springfield on the timing of  the city’s casino selection process.

       The gaming commission has been criticized by the construction trade unions and some local officials for moving too slowly to bring casino gambling, and the thousands of promised jobs to Massachusetts.  The commission estimates background checks could take six months, meaning it would be next summer, at the earliest, before local votes could be held on casino projects.

       At meetings later this week, the commission is expected to decide if it will issue the regional casino licenses simultaneously, or one at a time, and if it will allow a resort casino to open in stages.

       Hundreds of Springfield residents and business owners are expected to attend a public forum tonight with representatives from the two companies competing to build casinos in different areas of downtown Springfield.

       Officials with MGM Resorts International and Penn National Gaming are scheduled to make presentations and take questions .  The forum, scheduled between 5PM to 10PM at the CityStage theater is part of the city’s casino selection process.

       Springfield Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy said he’s hoping for a good crowd , and expects detailed presentations from the casino operators.

       MGM has proposed an $800 million dollar casino, hotel and entertainment complex  on a ten block site in the south end of downtown Springfield. It is an area that was damaged by the June 1st 2011 tornado.

       Penn National has announced plans for a resort casino  and other development, pegged at $807 million in the city’s North End.

       The companies must pay a $250,000 fee to the city by this Friday, and submit final detailed plans for their projects by January 3rd.  Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno  is expected to decide by the end of January if he’ll negotiate a host community agreement with one or both of the developers.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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