Anti-casino Activists Launch Referendum Campaign

Jul 17, 2014
Originally published on July 16, 2014 6:11 pm

Anti-casino activists launched a statewide referendum campaign today in Springfield where they outlined plans for convincing voters to keep Las Vegas-style gambling from coming to Massachusetts.

The leadership of the Repeal the Casino Deal campaign held the first organizational meeting of the campaign Wednesday in Springfield where the state’s gaming industry regulators a month ago designated MGM to build the state’s first resort casino.  Former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, who is advising the campaign, said the jobs and revenue promised by the casinos is “fool’s gold.”

 The anti-casino campaign leaders believe timing is on their side.  The Massachusetts economy is significantly better now than three years ago when state lawmakers approved the casino gambling law as a means to create jobs and generate tax revenue.  The casino industry is faltering in some places. 

" This is not a moral issue. This is being sold by the casino industry as being an economic development step,"said Harshbarger.

Harshbarger, who has long opposed casino gambling, said he became convinced a voter referendum to repeal the casino law could succeed after local voters blocked casino projects in all but some of the most economically downtrodden cities in the state.

" It is David vs Goliath. It is the people versus money. This is a chance for the people to be heard."

John Ribeiro of Winthrop, the campaign chairman, is mobilizing people, like himself, who organized to oppose local casino projects into a statewide network.  He said there has been a groundswell of support since the State Supreme Judicial Court ruled last month that the repeal question could go on the ballot.

" This is a statewide issue. People who say they want to pit Springfield versus the suburbs, or Winthrop versus  Revere and East Boston or Everett, that is the wrong way to look at it. This is all of the citizens of the Commonwealth banding together to finally have a vote."

A year ago voters in Springfield approved MGM’s $800 million casino project by a 58-42 percent margin.  Casino projects in West Springfield and in Palmer were turned down by voters.  Steve Abdow, a western Massachusetts leader of the anti-casino campaign, said there is strong anti-casino sentiment in the region.

"This is not just about self-interest or my backyard, they realize this is larger and it is about the common good."

Darek  Barcikowski, who has been hired  to manage the referendum campaign, said he is putting together a field operation to get the anti-casino vote to the polls on Election Day.

"We realize we might be outspent on the air. We will get our message on the air, but we might be outspent."

MGM and the other companies still competing for licenses in Massachusetts are expected to collaborate on a campaign to keep casinos legal in the state.  Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and other municipal officials who have endorsed casino projects will join in the campaign to save casinos, as will trade unions.

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