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Sarno Negotiates With MGM and Penn National

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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

There’s a lot at stake in Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno’s ongoing negotiations with the two casino companies that hope to build in his city.

As Sarno’s administration works to draft host community agreements with the companies—MGM, which wants to build in the South End, and Penn National, which has proposed a project in the North End—many crucial items are on the table. How many jobs will the casino create, and what will they pay? Will the companies work with labor unions and commit to hiring Springfield residents? What sorts of perks will the companies offer in exchange for the privilege of building in the city?

Those perks are expected to include to-be-determined financial contributions to support community groups and projects. Last week, at a meeting with casino consultants hired by the city, city councilors learned that that money will not come in the form of commitments to fund specific projects, as some had expected, but instead will be a lump sum payment to be allocated by city officials.

At-large City Councilor Tim Rooke suggests a different approach—one that could potentially circumvent the lobbying (and accusations of favoritism) that will, no doubt, emerge if city officials are in charge of handing out the casino funds. “[T]he most equitable distribution of any indirect funds from a casino developer should go directly to lower the tax burden for each of the taxpayers and not to special interest projects of any elected official or group,” Rooke wrote in an email after the meeting.

While the Sarno administration is negotiating with both MGM and Penn National, there’s no guarantee that the city will reach a draft agreement with both companies. Any agreement or agreements that emerge from the process will go before the City Council, and then city voters, for approval. Ultimately, the state’s Gaming Commission will make the final call about which of four competing projects will win the sole casino license to be issued in Western Mass. In addition to the two Springfield plans, Hard Rock International has proposed a casino in West Springfield, and Mohegan Sun has a plan for Palmer.

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