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Casino Vote Set In Springfield For July 16

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The casino project proposed in Springfield Massachusetts by MGM Resorts International will be put to the city’s voters in mid-July.

The Springfield City Council has voted unanimously to set July 16th as the date for the citywide casino referendum. The council also authorized $95,000 for a voter education campaign.  Springfield Election Commissioner Gladys Oyola said her office will use direct mail, print, television and internet advertising to promote the casino vote.

Springfield voters must ratify the host community agreement between MGM and the city before the company can apply to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission for the lone casino license authorized for western Massachusetts.  Casino projects are also proposed in Palmer and in West Springfield.

Oyola said  it was too early to estimate voter turnout for the casino referendum. It will take place just three weeks after the special election for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts on June 25th.

Because there is some overlap in the voter registration periods for the Senate election and the casino vote people who ask for an absentee ballot for the Senate vote will be offered one for the casino referendum. Also, Oyola said her office is producing a video that is strictly about the process of voting to air in the weeks prior to the special Senate election and up to the casino vote.

Voter turnout for special elections in Springfield has been historically low. Turnout was less than 10 percent for the Senate primaries last month.  Some city councilors on Monday night suggested holding the casino referendum on a Saturday in the belief it would produce a higher turnout. But Oyola dissuaded councilors, arguing the casino referendum should not be turned into an election experiment.

An anti-casino group lobbied unsuccessfully to hold the casino referendum on the same date as the municipal election in November. Michael Kogut, chairman of Citizens Against Casino Gaming, said voters deserve time to make an informed decision.

Kogut has filed a public records request at Springfield City Hall requesting all information concerning the setting of the July 16th date for the casino vote.   MGM requested the date. By state law, MGM will reimburse Springfield for all the referendum expenses, which are expected to top $220,000.

Kogut said his group is gearing up to campaign to defeat the referendum. MGM has already spent considerable time and money-- by one estimate $10million-- to market its casino development in Springfield.

MGM has proposed an $800 million  casino in the south end of the city’s downtown. The host community agreement commits MGM to make annual payments to the city of $24 million and cover expenses for infrastructure improvements and enhanced public safety.  The agreement also commits the company to create 3,000 jobs with minority hiring goals.

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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