Massachusetts Swings Both Ways with Casino Vote

Posted on: September 14, 2013, 05:30h. 

Last updated on: September 13, 2013, 05:35h.

The MGM Springfield is one possible casino coming to Massachusetts in the near future; it got a thumbs up from local voters this week

This past week saw plenty of voting taking place across Massachusetts, including two key votes on proposed casino projects in the state. The results were split, giving both casino proponents – and their opponents –  something to crow about.

Hard Rock Hits the Skids

The bigger vote came in the town of West Springfield, where there was a proposal to build an $800 million Hard Rock casino. The casino was expected to be one of the key competitors for the Western Massachusetts casino license.

But that project was dealt what could be a fatal blow on Tuesday, after the voters of West Springfield decided to reject the plan in a public referendum. About 55% of voters there voted against the casino, with 4,165 coming out against the project versus just 3,413 for it. The loss came as a surprise to many, as the campaign saw supporters of the casino drastically outspend opponents.

That rejection narrows the competition for the sole casino license in Western Massachusetts. At the moment, it appears that only two applicants have a chance at that license: an MGM project in Springfield, and a Mohegan Sun proposal that would be located in Palmer. The Palmer proposal still needs to be voted on by residents, while the MGM plan was approved by Springfield voters.

Heavy Spending No Help

The West Springfield casino would have been built on the site of the Eastern States Exposition, home to the Big E – the largest agricultural fair in New England. Early on, it appeared as though Hard Rock had little chance to overcome initial opposition to the project. That changed a bit as the casino chain spent nearly $1 million campaigning for the project and made promises about the amount of revenue they would bring in for West Springfield annually.

Ultimately, though, opposition groups were able to make their case better, and the project was soundly defeated. The victory was seen as a big win for anti-casino groups across the state, all of which are poorly financed when compared to their pro-casino opponents.

The other vote in the state may have had an even more surprising result. In the town of Plainville, a plan to develop a slot parlor at Plainridge Racecourse was overwhelming approved with 76% of the vote. A total of 1,582 voters came out in favor of the plan versus only 502 against.

The win capped a remarkable turnaround for Plainridge. Just last month, state regulators determined that the track’s ownership group was unfit to compete for the single slots parlor license that was available. But Penn National made a last-minute move to purchase the track, taking over the slots parlor proposal as well. That was enough to satisfy the Gaming Commission, which gave their approval for the project.

Of course, not everyone was happy with the racino’s approval.

“The process isn’t working,” said Mary-Ann Greanier, a member of No Plainville Racino. “The safeguards we were told to expect are not taking place.”

The Plainville project will compete against racino proposals in Raynham and Leominster, though the Leominster project must still be approved by voters.

Along with these projects, there are also three applicants for a license in the Greater Boston area: a Foxwoods proposal in Milford, a Wynn Resorts casino project in Everett, and a Suffolk Downs project in East Boston. There is also a single license available in Southeastern Massachusetts, but as of yet, no developers have applied for a license in that region.