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Casino Supporters, Opponents Prepare For Battle In Palmer

Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority

The focus of the casino competition in western Massachusetts is now squarely on Palmer. People on both sides of the casino issue in the rural town are gearing up for a referendum with an eye toward what happened with Hard Rock’s casino project last week in West Springfield.

       After Hard Rock’s casino project was killed by voters in West Springfield a week ago,MGM in Springfield and Mohegan Sun in Palmer  are left to compete for the lone casino license available in western Massachusetts. MGM cleared a major hurdle in July when Springfield voters endorsed the project in a referendum that passed with 58 percent of the vote.  Palmer voters will go to the polls November 5th to decide the fate of Mohegan Sun’s casino project.

       The outcome of the Hard Rock referendum has buoyed casino opponents across the state. Pastor Chuck Wimer of  Jubilee Family Outreach Center in West Springfield said it will give a boost to people fighting the casino project in Palmer.

       Iris Cardin, who is a leader of an anti-casino group in Palmer, said she was heartened by the vote in West Springfield.

       Cardin’s group, Quaboag Valley Against Casinos, was scheduled to hold a meeting in Palmer Wednesday night  to plot a campaign for the November 5th referendum.       

       Cardin said her chief concern about the casino is the impact on traffic.  Opponents of the Hard Rock casino made the traffic issue a big part of their campaign.               

Mohegan Sun has been cultivating its casino project in Palmer for years and has worked to build support among residents and local business owners.  The Connecticut-based gaming company and town officials recently signed a development agreement that would see the town’s tax levy increase by 117 percent if the casino is built.

Jennifer Baruffaldi, a spokesperson for the pro-casino group Citizens for Jobs and Growth in Palmer, said she was delighted to have Hard Rock taken out of the casino competition.

Baruffaldi and other casino supporters met over the summer to create a campaign to pass the casino referendum. She believes the case for a casino in Palmer is stronger than it was for one in West Springfield.

So far, as noted in the Boston Globe last week, proposed gaming projects in Massachusetts have fared best in places were jobs are scarce.   Springfield voters responded positively to MGM’s promise of 3,000 permanent jobs.  The city’s unemployment rate has been over 10 percent for several years.

West Springfield, outside of a commercial district, where the casino would have been located, is mostly a leafy residential community of 30,000 people. 

Palmer, a rural town of about 12,000 people, was once a manufacturing and railroad hub, but has been in economic decline for decades.

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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