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Springfield postpones host agreement announcement

Date: 1/31/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — Kevin Kennedy, the city's chief development officer, said last week the delay in assessing the information given by MGM Resorts International and Penn National Gaming would not affect the overall timing of the casino selection process in the city.

The city had self-imposed a deadline of Jan. 25 to announce if the two casino companies would then go on to the host agreement phase of the process. Instead the announcement will be made Feb. 13.

Kennedy said a series of consultant reports on traffic and urban planning issues must be evaluated prior to the announcement. For example, he noted that Union Street has had 16 water main breaks in recent years and there are questions of how a casino bordering the street would affect that infrastructure.

He expected the host agreement process would take between six and eight weeks and added City Council President James Ferrera III has stated he wants 30 days for the City Council to ratify the agreements.

He doesn't see any delay as a competitive disadvantage.

"Nobody can put a host agreement on the ballot until the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) deems so," he said. "We're making sure we're being thorough."

When asked about the current legal fight involving Peter Picknelly over whether he is legally part of Northeast Reality, which is involved in the Mohegan Sun proposal in Palmer, or the Penn project for the North End of Springfield, Kennedy said he believes that will be a question for the MGC to decide.

Kennedy referred questions to how the ballot would look to City Solicitor Edward Pikula, who answered Reminder Publications' questions.

Pikula said, "When an applicant applies to the state gaming commission for a site specific license, they must show the commission they have been approved by a local referendum where a majority of the votes were cast were in the affirmative in favor of a specific host community agreement that was summarized by the city solicitor and which was public for at least 60 days prior to the election."

The casino legislation stipulates an election must be conducted "not less than 60 days and not more than 90 days" after a developer who has signed a host agreement has made a request.

Pikula explained, "As such, the host agreement and a summary will be a public document subject to public scrutiny for at least a 60-day period prior to the election. Under the statute the question submitted to the voters, accompanied by a concise summary, must be worded as follows: 'Shall the (city/town) of _____ permit the operation of a gaming establishment licensed by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to be located at _____ [description of site]_____ YES_____ NO_____.'"

Pikula continued, "As you know, pursuant to the process established in Springfield, the mayor will decide whether to negotiate a host community agreement with one or both companies. If there were two, then two ballot questions must be submitted, as well as two host agreement summaries.

"As such, if one host community agreement goes on the ballot, it must receive a majority of votes in the affirmative. If two were on a ballot, similarly, whether they both were eligible to seek a license from the state would depend on whether each or both received a majority of affirmative votes cast; one could pass, none could pass, or both could pass, depending on whether a majority of votes cast are received in the affirmative for that particular proposal.

"The way the ballot question is phrased, opponents of any casino on any site can weigh in and vote 'no' regardless of the terms of any host agreement at any location. However, the fact that the entire host agreement will be public, and the fact that any host agreement will also be summarized, makes the election much more about specifics than a general vote in support or opposition," Pikula said.