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No Casino Springfield questions MGC credibility after MGM award

June 13, 2014 | By Chris Maza

An artist’s rendering of the proposed MGM Springfield Casino.
Reminder Publications file photo

LONGMEADOW – Even after MGM Springfield was approved for the state’s first-ever resort casino license by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC), local residents opposed to the proposed gaming facility, including Selectman Alex Grant, continued to push back.

Grant, who is also a member of the citizen’s group No Casino Springfield, which has fought against any of the previously proposed casinos, explicitly questioned the commission’s credibility in a statement to the media after the commission’s decision was announced.

“The Gaming Commission is bankrolled by the casino applicants, and the casino money allows the Commission members to enjoy lavish dinners and luxury hotels,” Grant said. “The press has reported a $110 trip to a wine bar, a $422 limousine bill, all as part of a smorgasbord of spending that is unprecedented for state officials. The Commission is supposed to be a watchdog for the industry, but it’s really a pampered lap dog.”

MGM Springfield, which has plans for an $800 million resort casino project in Springfield’s South End neighborhood, was formally awarded a Category 1 gaming license on June 13 after the MGC voted in its favor on June 11, with conditions.

No Casino Springfield is currently attempting to garner more support for a petition from the statewide group Repeal the Casino Deal that would call for a referendum to rescind the current Massachusetts gaming laws. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently heard cases for and against the referendum after the group petitioned the high court in response to Attorney General Martha Coakley's determination that the petition was unconstitutional.

The organization states its primary concern is the impact on the quality of life for Springfield residents as well as residents of surrounding communities.

“Experience shows that gambling addiction, drunk driving, and the demise of local businesses follows the opening of a casino,” Michelle Steger, Longmeadow resident and No Casino Springfield member, said.

Steger also cited a recent poll conducted by the Boston Herald and Suffolk University, which showed a shift in support for casino gaming in Massachusetts as a sign that residents statewide share the same fears.

“The recent polling proves that people are waking up to the huge economic and social costs that casinos bring,” she said.

No Casino Springfield insinuated that the license award was a foregone conclusion long before the process was played out, citing MGC Chairman Stephen Crosby’s statement to Springfield’s CBS3 that “it’s not very likely [MGM] would be stopped.”

Grant also criticized the MGC for granting a license to MGM in spite of its reported connection to Stanley and Pansy Ho. The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement found the Hos, father and daughter, to be an unsuitable business partner for the state when they came forward with MGM with plans for a joint venture in 2009.

The 74-page report stated in its findings that Stanley Ho, “through his involvement in the casino industry, has been and continues to be associated with organized crime figures.” Pansy Ho was deemed unsuitable due to the fact she “failed to demonstrate personal, financial and professional independence from her father and companies under his control,” the report also stated.

“The state of New Jersey found that MGM’s connection to Pansy Ho disqualified MGM from doing business in New Jersey,” Grant said. “The casino legislation was advertised as setting the highest standards for gambling in Massachusetts. It just shows how compromised the Commission is and how the gaming law is not working out as planned.”

No Casino Springfield has had considerable support in Longmeadow. At the Nov. 5, 2013, Special Town Meeting, the residents voted to adopt a resolution opposing casino gambling in the area. Similar resolutions were also passed in East Longmeadow, Holyoke, and West Springfield with the help of No Casino Springfield, the group claimed.

Grant has been extremely vocal in his opposition to the casino during his tenure on the Select Board. He previously publicly questioned MGM’s polling of residents prior to the 2013 Special Town Meeting, accusing the gaming company of trying to influence the Town Meeting vote.

He also sent a letter to the MGC on Nov. 28 that alleged that MGM provided the commission with false information and followed that up with another email to the commission and the media on Dec. 6 in which he reiterated that point.

He recently asked the Select Board to take a stance against licensed gaming in Massachusetts, stating that with their surrounding community agreement now executed, there was no danger to the town in terms of lost footing in negotiations.

Longmeadow recently won its arbitration case after achieving surrounding community status from the MGC and will receive $850,000 in up front payments and $275,000 in annual mitigation payments over 13 years after MGM opens its doors. The agreement also calls for periodic “look-backs” and the option to re-open negotiations.

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