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Hard Rock Casino Process Takes Next Step Amid Contentious Meeting

HArd-Rock_Mass_Final2WEBWEST SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB) — A confusing and contentious city council meeting played out in West Springfield Thursday night about the future of a Big E casino.

The agenda of the meeting was to take a big step toward setting a date for a community-wide referendum vote, but the meeting was nearly cancelled.

State law says that a date for a community wide vote can’t be set until the state finishes their background checks on a casino like Hard Rock.  That hasn’t happened, so Thursday night’s city council vote was to allow the town to set a date for an election while still knowing that the background check isn’t complete.

The vote did end up going through, but not without dramatics.

City councilors say they were promised, and it was required by law, that they have signed copies of the community host agreement prior to Thursday’s vote.  But even after a press conference, and a delay, no signed copy was ready in time for the meeting.

“I’m going to recess for not more than 5 minutes. If we don’t have that host agreement within the next 5 minutes in front of us, unfortunately I am really sorry to say after all this hard work that we will have to cancel tonight’s meeting,” said City Council Chair, Kathleen Bourque at one point.

Hard Rock and West Springfield leaders shuffled in and out of the chambers, meeting in groups for about five minutes.

Councilor Bourque says once the recess was taken, she then was handed a signed copy of the host agreement.

But where was it and why didn’t the councilors have it?  Mayor Gregory Neffinger says last minute details had to be ironed out.

“Mass Gaming Commission says the host community agreement has to be signed, and it is signed that’s all. Doesn’t say we have to do any distribution. You can imagine we signed this this afternoon, it’s administrative,” explains Mayor Neffinger.

In the end, the council unanimously approved the vote to proceed without the suitability check.

Despite the confusion, Neffinger says that’s the important thing.

“We have many things at stake here. We were discussing all those many hours yesterday, many hours today. We were anticipating this today. Remember, this is only a few city councilors who are upset,” Neffinger said.

Councilors say they only have West Springfield’s best interest at hand.  Their next step is to choose a date for their town wide vote.

At the center of all of this is the host agreement as agreed upon by Mayor Neffinger and Hard Rock. Some of the highlights include the following:

-more than $26 million in annual payments to the greater community, including the region
-$40 million in upfront investments in traffic, police, and fire
-major job creation and a commitment to hiring local people in West Springfield first, then surrounding applicants from surrounding towns
-payments to six surrounding communities on a rotating year to year basis
-request that the town wide referendum vote be on 9/10

The city council has 60 to 90 days to hold the vote.  The actual date will be finalized in the coming weeks.

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