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Defeat Of Casino Repeal Referendum Clears Way For Springfield Project


Massachusetts voters Tuesday soundly rejected a ban on Las Vegas-style gambling. The vote allows casino projects to move forward in Springfield and eastern Massachusetts.

         Voters by a lopsided 60-40 percent margin decided to keep the Massachusetts 2011 casino gambling law on the books after a casino industry-financed, multi-million dollar, tightly-focused campaign that highlighted the promise of thousands of jobs and revitalization in two economically depressed cities.

     MGM Resorts, which is going to build an $800 million destination casino in the South End of downtown Springfield – a section that sustained heavy damage in the 2011 tornado – threw a victory party Tuesday night for hundreds of supporters at the Basketball Hall of Fame.

     MGM President Bill Hornbuckle said construction would begin at once.

     "Tonight's vote was not just about Springfield. It wasn't just about the Commonwealth. It was about the state of our industry in America and we kicked ass, so thank you for that."

     An exuberant Mayor Domenic Sarno declared it a “joyous evening”

     " I think it's time to get the shovels in the ground," Sarno shouted as the crowd cheered.

     Sarno, who began working to bring a casino to Springfield almost immediately after the casino law went on the books, thanked neighborhood groups and organized labor for working to help defeat Question 3.

      " Besides the 3,000 jobs, and the 2,000 construction jobs, we will use this to create more jobs for all our people, no matter what creed, color , or background in Springfield, western Massachusetts, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."

      Springfield voters chose to keep the casino gambling law in place by a 64-36 percent margin—larger than the 58-42 percent vote in July 2013 to affirm the MGM project.

      Sponsors of the failed referendum question to repeal the casino law—who had to sue the state attorney general to get the question on the ballot after they had collected enough signatures – tried  to link together activists from municipal casino votes into a statewide network.  

       The repeal campaign lacked financing that left it unable to compete with the more than 3,000 TV spots aired by the pro-casino forces. 

     In Palmer and West Springfield – two communities where casino projects were defeated last year—a majority of voters in both towns Tuesday opposed repealing the casino law.  It suggests the earlier votes had more to do with concerns about traffic and other local issues rather than a blanket condemnation of casino gambling.

       Al Cabot, western Massachusetts coordinator for the casino law repeal effort, would not say what, if anything, might be done next to try to stop the development of the casino industry in Massachusetts.

      " But, there certainly are next steps," said Cabot.

       The Massachusetts Gaming Commission Thursday plans to formally award licenses to build and operate resort casinos to MGM and to Wynn Resorts, which is planning a $1.5 billion casino on the site of a former chemical company plant in Everett.

       An MGM official said a construction trailer would be put on the site of the Springfield project Wednesday, and test borings would begin.   The official said refurbishing would also begin shortly on several historic buildings that are part of the project footprint.

       Major construction work to build a parking garage, a 250-room hotel, and the casino itself will not start until next spring.  The casino is expected to open in 2017.

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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