Another casino setback
Small town Massachusetts has spoken and it seems that many of them don’t want casinos. Milford, a MetroWest town of 25,000, soundly defeated a host community agreement with Crossroads Massachusetts, a casino development group led by Foxwoods Connecticut and Colorado real estate developer David Nunes.
The much-anticipated Milford vote deflates the state’s fledging casino quest. The turnout was extraordinary at nearly 60 percent, and the vote wasn’t even close: 6,361 to 3,480. Milford joins East Boston, West Springfield, and Palmer in rejecting resort casinos. Suburban locales in particular have become what the Boston Globe’s Mark Arsenault calls “the graveyard of casino dreams.”
Yet opposition to the Foxwoods plan in Milford had been particularly fierce and well-organized. In the days leading up to the vote, the battle only intensified. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission gave the Foxwoods plan conditional approval, subject to securing financing for the project.
Which may be why late Sunday night Milford selectman Bill Buckley raised additional concerns about the financing agreement that Foxwoods had reached with Gaming and Leisure Properties, Inc., a subsidiary of Penn National Gaming, that was announced shortly after the commission’s decision. The last-minute jockeying led to a war of words between Buckley and Nunes over the timing of the selectman’s protest.
Yet most voters were more likely swayed by qualify of life issues than the complexities of financing agreements. The “no” coalition was buoyed by fears about crime, traffic, and threats to the town’s New England character. Its pink granite quarries and factories helped Milford prosper in the early 20th century. However, unlike some other former mill towns in the Bay State, the community never hit rock-bottom when the factories closed.
Milford today is a solidly middle of the middle-class town (median income: $60,840) that is not starved for new investment. The national retail usual suspects — Lowe’s, Target, Petco, and the like — can be found on the aptly-named Fortune Boulevard. The town hosts a fair number of moderately priced hotels. So the prospect of millions in annual payments and infrastructure improvements was not enough to sway voters to think about casinos as a municipal revenue source.
If anything, the vote was a decisive triumph for what MetroWest Daily News/Milford Daily News opinion editor Rick Holmes called the “Old Milford”:
“Unlike a lot of suburbs, Milford has allowed apartments to be built and held on to its affordable housing. Young Milford residents don’t have to leave town to find homes they can afford. They can stay in the hometown they love, raising their own children in familiar neighborhoods. That’s one reason Milford’s working-class character has survived so well. Milford has never gone upscale. Its politics are dominated by long-established families and lunch-bucket issues. The newcomers don’t vote in town elections or pay attention to Town Meeting.”
Casino supporters may grumble, but there have been persistent doubts that a small state like Massachusetts could support three major casinos in a region that is becoming increasingly saturated with gaming facilities. Outside of tourist magnets like Boston and the Cape and the Islands, there have also been questions about whether small cities like Springfield and even smaller communities such as Milford would draw enough entertainment seekers to make a casino’s economics work.
What the Milford vote portends may depend on what the future holds for resort casino proposals already in play in Springfield, Everett, and possibly Revere. There is little doubt, however, that the town’s decisive rejection will give new energy to the anti-casino forces working on an uphill fight for a ballot question seeking a wholesale repeal of the casino law.
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