It's still a couple of years before a casino is likely to open its doors in Western Mass., but in Springfield, the casino question is quickly becoming all-consuming.
There are turf wars over just who—Mayor Domenic Sarno, the City Council, the state Gaming Commission—has what authority to make what calls on the selection of a developer; complaints by one potential bidder than the mayor seems biased toward a proposal involving Springfield's Picknelly family; the recent revelation that a consultant hired by the city to guide it through the selection process has, in fact, worked as a lobbyist for two casino companies interested in building here; the sticky question of how the Springfield Republican can cover the issue fairly when one developer has said it would like to buy the newspaper's property for a casino site—not to mention the fact that some residents are opposed to allowing a casino in the city in the first place.
Oh, and then this: interested as Springfield officials may be in a casino and its purported economic benefits, there's no guarantee that the one casino allowed by state law in Western Mass. would even end up in the city.
Backers of a Springfield casino say it would address the city's high unemployment rate, which in July hit 11.1 percent, compared to the statewide rate of 6.6 percent. The Springfield branch of the NAACP is determined to make sure that if a casino does bring new jobs to the city, a good number of them go to communities of color, where the poverty and unemployment rates are highest. As the Rev. Talbert Swan II, the branch president, recently wrote to the four casino companies that have expressed an interest in the city, "In a stricken economy, where communities of color are the most heavily affected, a proposal to create hundreds of permanent jobs along with many temporary construction jobs should include a plan to ensure fair participation by residents of color."
The NAACP would like to meet with the casino companies to discuss "what efforts you will employ to obtain maximum participation by residents of color and to ensure that minority and women-owned contractors, subcontractors and suppliers are included in your proposed construction project," Swan wrote.
The branch also is seeking a meeting with Sarno to talk about the matter, suggesting that the city could require bidders to meet certain hiring levels as a condition of receiving the necessary local approval.
"It should be a goal of our city to increase the pool of minority group members, disabled veterans, and women who are qualified to perform the required construction work or professional services should a casino project become a reality in our city," Swan wrote.