On Springfield

Two Editorials, Zero Surprises

This weekend, the Springfield Republican endorsed City Hall’s host-community agreement with MGM, calling on voters to approve the South End casino proposal on next week’s ballot question.

Did anyone ever doubt that the Republican would endorse the plan? Sure, things would have been a lot stickier had Penn National’s rival bid to build a casino in the North End made it on to the ballot, given the newspaper’s untenable conflict of interest in that matter: that plan called for the casino developers to buy the newspaper’s building at 1860 Main Street and relocate its operations to snazzier digs closer to downtown.

But Mayor Domenic Sarno passed on the Penn National plan, announcing this spring that the city was instead negotiating a deal with MGM. That agreement now comes before city voters in a July 16 ballot question. If voters approve the deal, the proposal moves to the state Gaming Commission, which will ultimately choose the winner of the one casino license to be granted in Western Mass. (Right now, there are competing projects in Palmer and West Springfield.)

While the Republican won’t benefit from the MGM plan—at least, not as directly as it would have from Penn National’s—the paper’s editorial board is still rallying behind the project, which it calls the city’s “once-in-a-generation chance to reverse its long, sad decline.” The editorial touts many of the same benefits other backers have cited: the $800 million investment, the thousands of jobs, the revenue promised the state and city. It also praises MGM for “work[ing] triple-time to understand and embrace the Springfield community” and “propos[ing] an architecturally sensitive project with many access points that will interact with Main Street rather than wall off its patrons inside.”

The editorial briefly acknowledges the concerns of casino opponents—or, rather, one slice of those criticisms: “We have sympathy for the concerns of those who are morally opposed to casinos and gambling of any kind,” it reads. “Gambling can be as much of an addiction for some people as drinking or using cocaine or pornography. But if someone in Springfield desperately wants to gamble, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods are a short drive away, and Internet gambling sites are just a click away.”

For a more detailed exploration of the cons of the casino debate, voters might turn to this editorial from the anonymous watchdog website CasinoWhispers.com, which urges a “no” vote on the ballot question.

The site’s authors maintain that they never intended to weigh in on the ballot question, writing, “We generally like the idea of casinos, and think if done right, a casino could be good for Springfield.” I’ll admit that that assertion took me off guard; I’ve always thought of Casino Whispers as an anti-casino vehicle—or, at the very least, an operation that (rightly) set such high standards for prospective casinos that no proposal could ever meet them. The editorial instead describes Casino Whispers’ mission as asking the hard questions about the casino issue that the rest of the media have failed to ask. (Ouch. But, you know, fair enough.)

Casino Whispers’ take on the ballot question is scathing—and, it’s worth noting, more detailed than the Republican’s. It voices doubt about the project’s promised jobs and revenue and also slams the public process that’s led to next week’s ballot question: “The level of contempt MGM has for the people of Springfield is no more evident than in the timing of the referendum vote itself. Special elections are difficult enough to get a sizable turnout at the polls. A mid-summer referendum assures even a lower one. In more affluent and working blue class corners of the city, folks with good jobs and money in the bank, a demographic we believe less likely to vote in favor of the casino, typically head out of town around now. It’s vacation season. It’s not voting season.

“It’s not a stretch then to imagine the poor, inner city voter, less educated and more swayed by MGM’s promises of jobs and riches are more likely to vote in the affirmative,” the editorial continues. “And typically, far fewer of that demographic have the opportunity to go on vacation. Hey, you with a steady job, who pay residential taxes ... They don’t want you to vote!”

© 2014 The Valley Advocate