Casino Opponents Push for Later Springfield Referendum

The agreement signed by Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and MGM Resorts this week is now before the city council. If it passes, it could go to voters in a city-wide referendum in mid-July. But anti-casino advocates are pushing back, saying that’s not enough time for voters to make an informed decision. 

Michael Kogut is a Springfield-based attorney and chair of Citizens Against Casino Gambling. He says his group has asked the city council to hold the referendum with municipal elections in November, to boost turnout and give voters more time.

“No amount of money is going to combat what MGM will spend to paint the pretty picture that they will of what they consider to be the positives of a gaming casino in urban Springfield without sharing with the voters what the negatives are,” Kogut says. “So the voters are going to need time to hear those from groups like ours.”

A referendum would take place at least sixty days after the council’s approval. Springfield officials have asked the council to approve the agreement before May 15th, in hopes of holding a July 16th vote. The city’s chief development officer Kevin Kennedy says that’s enough time for voters to make up their minds.

“People have had plenty of time to formulate an opinion on this to this point, and they’ll have another sixty days to vet it, so the question is, how long do you want this issue to drag on?”

Kennedy says he thinks a July ballot will have a strong turnout. MGM officials have cited the state gaming commission’s looming deadline as a reason to hold a summer vote. But according to the commission, that date won’t be until December. Kennedy says the city council is set to take up the MGM agreement on Monday.