Fight for Casinos in Massachusetts and Up and Down Battle

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For years, people who live in the Boston area who want to gamble have had to make a two-hour trek to Connecticut. The Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos there are the nearest full-scale casinos to the Boston market.

Government officials in Massachusetts eventually grew tired of the residents of their state going next door to Connecticut to gamble… it was a one-way siphon of Massachusetts monies into Connecticut. So leaders in the Bay State decided Massachusetts would build some casinos of its own, to keep the gambling monies in-state. But, they decided, casinos could only be built in locations where the residents—via referendum—approved their construction.

In the latest round of local voting on the issue in Massachusetts, on Tuesday, November 5, 2013, voters in two communities rejected proposals to construct casinos in their respective municipalities.

In the first tally, voters in East Boston, where Logan International Airport is located, voted against plans to build a casino at the existing Suffolk Downs thoroughbred horse racing track. The track, like most horse tracks throughout America, has suffered a huge dropoff in business in recent times as gambling options for consumers have increased. So Suffolk operators wanted to bring a casino in, to reinvigorate business. But East Boston voters soundly rejected the notion, with 56% of the electorate voting against the proposal and only 44% voting for it.

In the second election, voters in the tiny town of Palmer rejected a proposal by the Mohegan Sun corporate conglomerate to build a casino. The $1 billion project would have included a casino, showroom, restaurants and bars, and employed thousands. But voters said no. The vote was close, however, with the rejection coming by fewer than 100 votes, and a recount has been called for by Mohegan Sun officials.

The two electoral defeats for Massachusetts gambling interests come on the heels of another defeat there just two months earlier. In September, voters in West Springfield rejected a plan by the Hard Rock Company, which operates a casino in Las Vegas and restaurants around the world, to construct a new casino.

Despite the recent string of defeats, there have been some victories for Massachusetts gambling.

In June, voters in Everett approved a proposal by casino mogul Steve Wynn, who owns casinos in Vegas and China, to build one in that Boston suburb. And in July, voters in Springfield, site of the Basketball Hall of Fame, approved plans by casino giant MGM to build one there.

Unless and until anything changes, local residents will continue to wield the power to build—or not build—new casinos in Massachusetts.

“While I am a very strong supporter of expanded gaming, I am also a very strong supporter of saying that if people do not want it in their community, then they are not going to get it in their community,” said Robert DeLeo, Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, a strong supporter of the 2011 law which legalized casinos in the state as long as local residents approve.

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