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More Voter Referendums On Gaming Projects Set In Massachusetts

Christopher Chappelear

Hard Rock has begun the campaign to convince voters in West Springfield, Massachusetts to endorse the company’s plan for a resort casino. It will be the second western Massachusetts casino project to face a make or break referendum.

       Hard Rock officials will host a public grand opening Tuesday for the campaign headquarters for the September 10th casino referendum.  The event will mark the formal launch of the “West Side Yes” pro-casino campaign. 

       Hard Rock is proposing an $800 million casino on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition where the regional agricultural fair The Big E is held each September.  The project would be a financial windfall for the town of 30,000 people under terms of a development agreement signed earlier this month by Hard Rock officials and West Springfield Mayor Gregory Neffinger.

       The host community agreement guarantees West Springfield $18 million annually in property taxes and other payments.  The casino company would pay $40 million up front for traffic and infrastructure improvements.

       Hard Rock is one of three companies competing for the lone casino license authorized by state law in western Massachusetts.  A project must be approved in a local voter referendum before the Massachusetts Gaming Commission can consider issuing a license.

       MGM Resorts’ proposal for a casino in downtown Springfield was approved earlier this month with 58 percent of the vote in a city wide referendum.  MGM poured at least $1 million into the pro-casino campaign.

       Mohegan Sun and officials in Palmer continue to negotiate a host community agreement for a proposed $1 billion casino development on a wooded hillside in the rural town.  Palmer Town Counselor Paul Burns expects the deal to be finalized in two weeks and a referendum scheduled for late October.

       The pro-casino referendum campaign in Palmer has already started with the launch of a website and Facebook page.  Jennifer Barufaldi, a spokesperson for several pro-casino groups in Palmer, said they plan to host a public meeting on August 12th to “brainstorm” ways to get out the pro-casino vote.

       There has been a flurry of activity recently by developers hoping to secure a license to operate a slots parlor in Massachusetts. Required referendums have been scheduled in five communities, including two in central Massachusetts, Leominster and Millbury, that will vote on the same day September 24th.  The other slots parlor projects are proposed in Taunton, Plainville and Tewksbury in eastern Massachusetts.

       Clyde Barrow, Director of the Center for Policy Analysis at UMass Dartmouth and an expert on the gaming industry, said the level of competition for the lone slots license in Massachusetts is surprising.

       The Massachusetts Gaming Commission expects to award the license for the slots parlor by the end of this year. The commission plans to award the casino licenses for western and for eastern Massachusetts early next year.

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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