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Bissonnette sponsors forum on casinos

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

CHICOPEE Although decisions that would settle the casino question in Western Massachusetts are still possibly years away, the debate over whether or not a casino should be placed in the area received new fuel with a report released by the Center for Policy Analysis by the university of Massachusetts at Dartmouth that named Chicopee as a preferred site for a casino.

In response Chicopee Mayor Michael Bissonnette has invited Dr. Clyde Barrow, director of the Center, to speak about the report Aug. 27 at 6 p.m. at the Chicopee Public Library Community Room. The meeting is open to the public, but people planning to attend need to make a reservation by calling 594-1500 by Aug. 23. Bissonnette told the Chicopee Herald that if the response were too much for the 200 seats at the library, the program would be moved to the 700-seat auditorium of Chicopee High School.

The complete report can be read at

In his report Barrow contends that with three casinos, Massachusetts could dominate the gaming industry in New England. He recommended that a casino in Western Massachusetts have up to 2,000 slot machines and 100 table games. The location he cited would be at the intersection of the Massachusetts Turnpike and Interstate 291.

Barrow estimated the Commonwealth could see about $600 million in gaming revenues in a few years.

In his report, Barrow said the host community for each of the three casinos would receive a host fee separate from property taxes. Chicopee, under his analysis, could receive a host fee of $2.8 million annually.

Every city and town in the Commonwealth would receive at least a 10.4 percent increase in local aid thanks to the casino revenue, Barrow wrote.

Bissonnette said he wanted to sponsor Barrow's talk so people throughout the region would be able to have a sense of what would be involved with the placement of a casino.

Bissonnette said he could not support or oppose a casino because he wants to review an actual proposal.

"There's nothing to make a judgment on [now]," he said.

Bissonnette does believe there must be a new source of revenue for cities and towns other than property taxes and the state lottery has reached its saturation level with its gambling efforts.

Although the Board of Aldermen squashed a request by the mayor to place a non-binding referendum on the ballot about casino gambling, Bissonnette said there has been many phone calls to his office questioning why the Aldermen prevented the public from expressing their opinion.

He said he would present a request for a ballot question at the Sept. 4 meeting signed by 10 residents. By law, the Aldermen can either grant the request or deny it. If they deny it, Bissonnette said there would be a petition campaign to garner the votes necessary to put the question on the ballot in either 2008 or 2009.

"Either way the issue stays alive," he said.

"All we're asking for is for people to keep an open mind," the mayor added.