All over before the casino vote in Springfield

History did not repeat itself. With visions of dollars to city coffers dancing in their heads, Springfield voters weren’t about to chuck away MGM International’s $800 million casino opportunity.The MGM agreement got Springfielders’ seal of approval in Tuesday’s referendum campaign, 58 percent to 42 percent.  

MGM Springfield President Bill Hornbuckle called the outcome a “landslide;” Mayor Domenic Sarno argued that the vote brings “fiscal stability,” even though that prospect would only be possible if the Massachusetts Gaming Commission gives Springfield the go-ahead for the western Massachusetts license. Palmer and West Springfield are also in contention.

Only about a quarter of the city’s 98,000 registered voters were motivated enough about the issue to go to the polls, a dismal turnout considering how much a casino would reshape the city.

Twice in the mid-1990s Springfield rejected casinos. The difference today? MGM had tons of money to spread around. Citizens Against Casino Gaming, the local anti-casino group, only had a pittance by comparison, some of it out of the pockets of its chairman, Michael Kogut. So it was not difficult for a multinational corporation to out hustle the locals by sponsoring the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, bringing in top-drawer entertainers for concerts, saturating the airwaves, and passing out limitless swag to help secure a “yes” vote. MGM spent $1 million on its “Yes for Springfield” referendum campaign alone.

MGM had the firm and vocal support of Sarno. Citizens Against Casino Gaming had no comparable local noteworthy to galvanize voters. Former attorney general Scott Harshbarger, a vocal casino opponent, did not cut it. Now in his 80s, popular former mayor Charlie Ryan, who helped lead the 1990s anti-casino fight, did not dive into the fray this time around.  Nor did the Catholic Church, which also was a potent force during those earlier “no” campaign drives.

Neither Sarno nor MGM would debate casino opponents before the Tuesday’s vote. Casino supporters relentlessly accentuated the positives: cash payments to the city, 3,000 permanent jobs, and a downtown renaissance. The arguments against casinos — increased crime, gambling addiction, and the dubious casino experiences of communities like Atlantic City, Detroit, and Bethlehem never got any traction in Springfield. Even questions raised about MGM’s payments to the city based on a lower value than the casino’s actual worth generated little interest.

Despite the defeat, Springfield’s anti-casino group will keep calm and carry on. Kogut vowed to continue to investigate the city’s dealings with MGM and delve further into the legality of the mayor appearing in pro-MGM ads paid for by the casino behemoth.

                                                                                                                                                    –GABRIELLE GURLEY

BEACON HILL

Title insurance is a little understood and lightly regulated product that is making big money for lawyers and insurers in Massachusetts, CommonWealth reports.

Norfolk Sheriff Michael Bellotti is eyeing a run for state treasurer now that the current occupant, Steve Grossman, has announced his intention to run for governor.

Scot Lehigh looks for Gov. Deval Patrick — and finds him riding proudly on a high horse.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Former Chelsea housing authority chief Michael McLaughlin faces sentencing today in federal court, and the Globe says a new report from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development on questionable spending practices could figure (and not in a good way for McLaughlin) in today’s sentencing.

Eastern Bank is launching an ad campaign focusing on what’s good about Lawrence, a city with an image problem, the Eagle-Tribune reports. “Sometimes the best business opportunities are found where others have looked away,” the ad says.

Eighty of 105 Massachusetts retirement authorities receive failing grades on their efforts to cover their pension obligations in a Pioneer Institute data analysis, the Globe reports.

Adrian Walker accuses Newton Mayor Setti Warren of trying to process to death a plan for nine studio apartments for former homeless people in his tony burg.

The Legislature passes a home rule petition allowing Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt to  hire new police and fire chiefs without going through Civil Service, the Salem News reports.

Norfolk County DA Michael Morrissey is injured in a car crash in Milton, NECN reports.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Democrats and Republicans reached a compromise — or both caved in, depending upon your point of view — to avoid the “nuclear option” in the Senate that would have strictly curtailed the use of filibusters. NPR (via WBUR) explains why.  Here is the Globe account.

President Obama has formed a White House task force to explore ways to expand national service programs to help meet the administration’s policy priorities such as helping failing schools and improving the environment.

The Globe devotes a lot of real estate and time to detailing Obama’s every move in his last three Vineyard vacations as the hyping of the First Family’s August return to the island begins in earnest.

Ed Markey is sworn in as the state’s junior US senator. To mark the occasion, the Globe has a front-page story raising questions about a call Markey made to UMass president Robert Caret to help inform his decision in awarding a $240,000 federal lobbying contract from the university.

ELECTIONS

The new style of campaigning goes back to the future with an emphasis on grassroots organizing, CommonWealth reports.

Herald columnist Joe Battenfeld reports on a new Suffolk University/Herald poll that shows City Councilor John Connolly and Rep.  Martin Walsh leading the pack of candidates in the Boston mayor’s race. Even though it’s only mid-August, Suffolk pollster David Paleologos sees three tiers of candidates forming. Boston magazine’s David Bernstein says such talk of tiers is “nonsense.” Suffolk honcho John Nucci says it’s still early.

James Aloisi, writing in CommonWealth, fits the crowded Boston mayoral race into an historical context.

US Rep. John Tierney just won reelection last year, but already two Democrats say they will challenge him and Richard Tisei strongly hints he will run again, the Salem News reports.

The 4-3 vote by the Salem School Committee on ending the longer school year experiment at the Saltonstall School could play a big role in the next election for school committee members, the Salem News reports.

Liz Cheney, daughter of the former vice president, says she will wage a primary challenge to  Wyoming’s Republican senator, Mike Enzi, NPR reports.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

CommonWealth interviews Nicole Fichera, the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s Innovation District manager.

Anti-tax jihadist Grover Norquist pens an oped for American Spectator railing against Congress’s impending vote to allow states to levy a sales tax on products sold over the Internet, using Maine-based L.L. Bean as his example.

Greater Boston takes a look at the city’s Seaport District where tech companies see opportunities for growth for themselves as well as the neighborhood.

North Carolina, which many see as a Bay State rival for attracting and retaining businesses, has voted to cut taxes and reform the system in order to make it more business-friendly and boost its economy.

South Dennis considers the pros and cons of a Lowe’s home improvement store.

EDUCATION

Massachusetts education commissioner Mitchell Chester and Pioneer Institute director Jim Stergios square-off in this CommmonWealth  Argument & Counterpoint on the proposed new Common Core State Standards.

Rhode Island passes a first-of-its-kind law allowing Smithfield the ability to charge Bryant University for police, fire, and emergency response services, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Three investigations are looking into possible misspending of funds in purchasing equipment and supplies for Boston School Department athletic programs.

The Fall River School Committee rejected a proposal to open an “innovation academy” that would help put the city’s students on a track to get into and succeed in college beginning with the seventh grade.

HEALTH CARE

Boston has mostly good results in a health savings experiment, WBUR reports. But the Globe suggests costs are likely to rise. Individuals in New York buying health insurance on their own will see their cost fall 50 percent, the Times reports.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

New England’s power grid operator urges customers to conserve energy during the heat wave, the Associated Press reports (via WBUR).

A technical glitch kept Fairhaven’s two turbines running at night over the weekend in violation of a Board of Health order to shut down between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. because of noise.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A former employee at a Bank of America branch in Reading pleads not guilty to stealing $2.1 million from 31 investors and friends, the Lowell Sun reports.

The Patriot Ledger editorial page is urging lawmakers to pass a bill that would stop charging 17-year-olds as adults.

MEDIA

A Rolling Stone profile of Dzhohkar Tsarnev with a cover photo of the accused bomber is already spiking controversy.

Meet the Author

Gabrielle Gurley

Senior Associate Editor, CommonWealth

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

Red Sox principal owner John Henry tours the Globe and his associates visit Telegram & Gazette properties in Worcester as part of a New York Times sales process, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

Front-page stories in the New York Times quote male sources 3.4 times more than female sources, Poynter reports.