West Springfield Voters to Hard Rock: ‘We Don’t Want You.’

Voters in West Springfield soundly defeated a proposal for a casino on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition. Tuesday’s referendum on the host community agreement between the town and Hard Rock Gaming failed by a 10-percent margin.

At a gathering across the street from the resort-casino’s proposed site, stunned supporters watched as the results came in quickly. Tim Maland heads Hard Rock’s New England operation.

“We talked to lots of people,” Maland told reporters. “We worked hard. We tried our best. We thought we were honest, open, above-board, transparent, communicated our message very well, I thought. And we’ve been told by the residents, ‘We don’t want you.'”

A mile down the street, casino opponents rejoiced in their victory. One supporter shouted “David has beaten Goliath,” referring to the grassroots effort, which prevailed despite relatively little funding. Nathan Bech led the group No Casino West Springfield.

“A lot of people did a lot of work and just really got the word out, got the message out that, ‘Hey, don’t believe this propaganda. Don’t believe what this billion dollar corporation is trying to push down your throat.’ We got the truth out there. We explained the facts about the damage that a casino does,” Bech said.

The results caused an emotional response from West Springfield residents on both sides of the issue. Ted Hebert said a casino was not a good fit for the town.

“We need jobs of integrity,” Hebert said. “We don’t need casinos that have no windows, no clocks and they pump in oxygen to keep you alive. We care about our local community. We care about our jobs, and that is why the citizens of West Springfield did what they did.”

“This is a foolish decision and I think the town’s going to regret it for a many, many years. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said resident Tom Caruso, gathering with supporters at Hard Rock’s results-watching party. “Was it perfect? No. But nothing is perfect. Where are you going to get this many jobs in such a short time in such a concentrated area? It’s not going to happen.”

The third and final Western Massachusetts casino referendum is scheduled in Palmer for November 5th.

Earlier this year, Springfield voters approved a deal between the city and MGM.