Massachusetts Senate Passes Casino Bill, Towns Look Ahead

After months of lobbying, speculation and debate, the Massachusetts Senate voted last week to approve a bill that authorizes a casino in Western Massachusetts and two others in different parts of the state. Now a joint legislative committee will have to draft a final bill to send to the governor, but towns are already competing and evaluating the possibilities for a resort-style casino.

Mohegan Sun in Connecticut is proposing a casino in Palmer, Massachusetts and a group called Paper City Development is eyeing one in Holyoke. Penn National Gaming of Pennsylvania says it's considering expanding to Springfield or surrounding areas. But voter approval in any town will be required.

"The state's going to mandate what we're going to have to do. They're going to need a certified vote of the town, a majority vote in favor of the casino coming to town."

Andrew Golas is an administrator in the Palmer town office. He says the town council has a clear stance on a casino, but town officials are waiting to gauge interest from residents.

"The council is hoping that it goes in favor of the casino. They've been huge advocates for it. As far as the manager's office, we've been kind of playing it by ear and more playing it off of what the voters decide. If voters come up with more than 50 percent then we'll pursue it wholeheartedly. At the end of the day if voters come back and say no this isn't something that we want, we're not going to try to push it on the town."

The differences in the House and Senate versions of the casino bill include variations over who would be allowed to approve a casino at the local level. The Senate version approved an amendment that calls for a vote by all residents of Springfield if a casino is proposed for that city. But in Boston and Worcester, votes would be held only in the wards where casinos would be located, unless their city councils decide they want city-wide votes. A compromise bill is expected to reach Governor Deval Patrick's desk around Thanksgiving.