SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) — Springfield voters are deciding whether to advance an agreement that calls for MGM Resorts International to pay the city more than $25 million annually if a proposed $800 million casino and entertainment complex is built there.
The state's 2011 gambling law requires that a local referendum be held before a prospective casino developer may apply to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission for one of the three regional resort casino licenses allowed under the law.
Polls for Tuesday's referendum are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The MGM proposal, if backed by Springfield voters, could be in competition with two others for the western Massachusetts license. Mohegan Sun has proposed a resort casino for the town of Palmer and Hard Rock has a plan for the Eastern States Exhibition in the city of West Springfield.
Votes on those proposals could be cast in September. A decision by the commission on who gets the license could come in the early 2014.
Springfield, the state's third-largest city, originally fielded four casino proposals. Two would-be developers dropped out, and Mayor Domenic Sarno chose MGM in April as the city's preferred developer over a competing plan from Penn National Gaming.
City Elections Commissioner Gladys Oyola has predicted turnout could reach 25 percent of the city's registered voters on Tuesday, though she cautioned that a forecast of extremely hot and humid weather could keep some voters away.
Bill Hornbuckle, MGM's president and chief marketing officer, said reports of strong absentee balloting were an indication that voter interest was running high.
"I think this is a very good indication that despite the heat, despite the dog days of summer, people are going to show up," Hornbuckle said Monday.
The casino is a "once in a lifetime opportunity" for Springfield, he said. In addition to the more than $25 million in annual revenue for the city, the project would deliver 3,000 permanent jobs and 2,000 temporary construction jobs. MGM has committed to offering 35 percent of the jobs to Springfield residents and 90 percent to people within the region.
Campaign finance records show MGM spent nearly $1 million through the end of last month on the effort to win voter approval, while opponents said they spent only about $1,000 during that time.
Critics say a casino would prey on low-income and elderly residents and lead to crime and traffic problems.
Michael Kogut, head of Citizens Against Casino Gaming, said the group hoped to have volunteer sign-holders at 90 percent of the city's precincts on Tuesday. Volunteers made phone calls and knocked on doors in the final days leading up to the vote, he said.
The group insists Springfield is the wrong place to locate a casino that Kogut claims would be likely to draw largely on residents living in the immediate vicinity, rather than attract large numbers of visitors to the city.
"Springfield is not a destination resort casino attraction," he said. "This is an urban casino. It will be a convenience casino. It will not attract tourists."