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Hampden, Wilbraham weigh impacts of Springfield, Palmer casinos


May 2, 2013
By Chris Maza

chrism@thereminder.com

GREATER SPRINGFIELD — While MGM Springfield has had brief talks with Wilbraham officials as part of their preliminary efforts to start a dialogue with surrounding communities that may be impacted by local casino development, Mohegan Sun Massachusetts has not reached out to one of Palmer's border-sharing communities.

While much of the attention has been on the two casino proposals in the city of Springfield, Mohegan Sun's proposed project in Palmer could have more of a major impact on Wilbraham residents.

Mohegan Sun announced in an April 23 press release that it hoped to have a host community agreement with Palmer by July for its proposed $775 million development, which would included a resort casino, hotel and retail space.

"The host community agreement is important to establishing an effective and cooperative working relationship with the town, and a milestone that will enable us to move forward with a referendum vote," Mitchell Etess, chief executive of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, said.

A referendum vote in Palmer will take place in September.

However, Board of Selectmen Chair Robert Boilard told Reminder Publications that other than MGM's appearance at a recent board meeting, no other gaming entity has made any effort to come into the town and begin a dialogue.

"MGM is the only casino group that has approached us and given a presentation. We have not heard from any others to do the same," he said. "That being said there are plenty of casino meetings that are jointly held for public officials and municipal employees."

Boilard admitted that he has been unable to attend those meetings because of conflicts with his full-time job.

He indicated, however, that his major concerns regarding a casino center on the Route20/Boston Road corridor. He had questions specifically, he said, regarding how emergency services would be affected and if they would be more strained by increased traffic through the area and how the town would be able to fund those additional demands.

"How do we mitigate these potential problems? Well, that is difficult to answer," he said. "We first must get as much information as possible from the group that may win the contract as well as much information from our Connecticut neighbors that have already been through this and face it daily.

"These are questions that have not been answered, but have been asked," he added.

Hampden Board of Selectmen Chair Vincent Villamaino said his board has not been contacted by any gaming company, but added that he didn't believe Hampden would be heavily impacted by such a development, regardless of where it is.

"I don't think Mohegan will impact us at all and I don't know how much casinos in Springfield would impact us. I don't see a whole lot," he said.

With traffic being the major concern, Villamaino said the major routes to any of the proposed casino sites do not run through Hampden and therefore motorists should not see any major changes.

"I would think that Monson would be more heavily affected [by a Palmer casino. I would imagine that people who come through would go around [Hampden] from [Connecticut Route] 190 to [New England Interstate] 32," he said. "[Springfield casino-goers] are going to jump on the highway and go around us. It's a lot faster to jump on the [Massachusetts Turnpike] to Springfield and jump right off."

A message left at the Mohegan Sun Massachusetts office in Palmer requesting comment as to whether the company plans to reach out to surrounding communities was not returned as of press time.

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