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West Springfield residents reject casino proposal

Boston - The competition for the only casino license in western Massachusetts narrowed on Tuesday as West Springfield voters rejected a proposal by Hard Rock International to build a resort casino.

The vote went 55 percent to 45 percent against a host community agreement that would have called for Hard Rock to make minimum annual payments of $18 million a year to the city if a casino were built at the Eastern States Exposition.

It leaves two proposals on the table - from MGM Resorts for Springfield and Mohegan Sun for the town of Palmer. Springfield voters approved a host community agreement in July and Palmer residents are scheduled to vote Nov. 5 on a proposed deal.

"Tonight the people of West Springfield, a great family community with rich values and strong traditions, have made a decision at the polls. While their decision means the Hard Rock New England project will not go forward in West Springfield, we respect their decision and thank them for welcoming us into their community for the past eight months," the company said in a statement.

Nathan Bech, head of the group No Casino West Springfield, had worked against the plan. He said the vote sends a message that casino companies "can't pay their way into a town" if people don't want legalized gambling.

"We are very excited and happy that we won," Bech said after the vote.

He said some group members are interested in working as individuals with other casino opponents in nearby Springfield and Palmer.

Also on Tuesday, a casino compact between Gov. Deval Patrick and the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, stalled for months on Beacon Hill, got a push forward when a legislative panel approved the agreement.

The vote, coming at a meeting of the economic development committee held in Springfield, clears the way for the full Legislature to act on the compact, which would guarantee the state a share of between 15 and 21 percent of gambling proceeds if a tribal casino is built in Taunton.

"We believe this agreement will keep our world-class destination resort casino on track," said tribal chairman Cedric Cromwell after the action by lawmakers. He said Massachusetts would receive more than $2 billion in revenue from the casino over a 20-year period.

In another vote Tuesday, Plainville voters overwhelmingly approved a slot parlor proposal for the state's only harness racing track.

The moves advance a process that could lead to the awarding of the first Massachusetts gambling licenses in the coming months.

Patrick reached the revised agreement with the Mashpee in March after an earlier agreement was approved by the Legislature only to be rejected by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. The governor has said he is confident the new agreement will pass muster with the federal agency.

Lawmakers, however, appeared to be in no rush to act on the revised compact. A hearing was held in May, during which some southeastern Massachusetts legislators questioned whether the tribe would ever be able to clear all of the legal obstacles standing in the way of its casino hopes.

In addition to the compact, the tribe must win federal land-in-trust approval that some experts believe could be tied up for years in litigation. The tribe has expressed confidence that it will receive all the necessary approvals by next year.

The state's 2011 casino gambling law carved out exclusivity for the Mashpee in the southeast region, but the Massachusetts Gaming Commission decided in April to allow commercial developers to also submit bids in the region, citing the uncertainty over the tribe's progress.

The Plainville plan was nearly scuttled when the commission disqualified the current owners of the Plainridge track from competing for a slots parlor after a background check raised questions about the firm's business practices.

But the panel allowed Tuesday's vote to go forward after another company, Penn National Gaming, moved in last week with a plan to honor a previously negotiated host community agreement and purchase the track if it was awarded the state's only slots parlor license.


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