Mohegans Lose Bid for Casino In Palmer, Mass., Leaving Springfield As Last Plan Standing

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Artist renderings of the Mohegan Sun Massachuetts casino plan.

PALMER, Mass. — Voters narrowly defeated Mohegan Sun’s $1 billion casino proposal on Tuesday, leaving the MGM Resorts International plan for downtown Springfield as the sole survivor in a contest to operate a casino in western Massachusetts.

Complete unofficial results from the town clerk’s office shortly after 9 p.m. showed 2,564 yes votes to 2,657 no votes.

The total turnout of 5,221 voters means that 66 percent of the town’s 8,412 registered voters turned out.

It was not immediately clear if there would be a recount.

In September, West Springfield defeated plans for a Hard Rock casino near the Big E fairgrounds.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission will award a license next spring, and construction could start soon afterward. A casino is expected to open in 2016.

The western Massachusetts casino will be one of three regional resort casinos the state will allow as a result of legislation passed in 2011. The others are in Greater Boston and in southeastern Massachusetts. The Boston Globe reported about 9 p.m. that a casino proposal for Suffolk Downs had also been defeated.

The Mohegans planned to spend $1 billion to build the casino report, which would have included an indoor water park, two hotels, retail and restaurants. The tribe said the project would have created 3,100 permanent full-time jobs; more than 2,000 construction jobs while it was under construction; and an additional 2,000 indirect jobs.

Supporters in this town of 12,140 rallied around Mohegan as an answer to unemployment, empty storefronts and a sluggish economy in an aging mill town that has lost manufacturing jobs over the course of decades.

Protesters said a casino would usher in new problems, such as problem gambling and crime, while people in the region spend their hard-earned discretionary income on roulette, black jack and slot machines.

The Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority opened its flagship Mohegan Sun casino 17 years ago in Uncasville, Conn., and the tribe has been expanding to Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Washington.

Palmer is less than 20 miles east of Springfield on the Massachusetts Turnpike. The casino had been planned for a site off Exit 8 of I-90, the Mass Pike.

A non-binding referendum to support casinos in Palmer passed 55 percent to 44 percent in 1997, though plans to build one never came to fruition.

By Matthew Sturdevant, Hartford Courant

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