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Bay State voters choose to preserve fledgling casino industry

Massachusetts voters saved the state’s fledgling casino industry Tuesday by overwhelming rejecting a ballot referendum that would have tossed a three-year-old gaming law.

The question was soundly defeated with almost 60 percent of electorate voting no. The move paves the way for multi-billion dollar casinos to be built by MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts Ltd.

MGM Resorts expects to receive a casino license to build an $800 million hotel-casino complex in the western Massachusetts city of Springfield this week.

MGM Resorts Chairman Jim Murren celebrated the vote at a party in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in downtown Springfield. He told an audience the 2011 casino act would create 10,000 jobs and provide “billions of dollars” in economic benefits.

“Today’s vote showed us that people really understood what was at stake,” Murren said.

He said MGM and Springfield “can now begin the work of rebuilding a great downtown and igniting a renaissance in Western Massachusetts.”

Backers of the referendum sought to repeal a 2011 decision by the governor and state lawmakers to add three Las Vegas-style casinos and a slot machine-only facility to various geographic regions of the state.

Wynn Resorts earned a license in September for the Boston area to build a $1.6 billion property in the town of Everett.

“While it has been a long process, the benefits to everyone in the Commonwealth will be worth it,” said Wynn Resorts Senior Vice President Robert DeSalvio.

Penn National Gaming is halfway through construction of a $225 million slot machine-only casino attached to Plainridge Park Racecourse. The casino is scheduled to open next June. Penn already has invested more than $100 million into the project.

The ballot referendum also has generated an influx of spending by casino companies.

According to the most recent campaign finance reports the pro-casino group had raised nearly $12 million, much of it from casino companies. That’s far more than the $675,000 raised by casino opponents.

MGM Resort donated $2.5 million to the pro-gaming coalition. Wynn Resorts donated $1 million to defeat the referendum. Penn National gave $3.2 million to the effort.

The Washington, D.C.-based American Gaming Association, which normally avoids statewide ballot referendums, targeted a series of its “Get to Know Gaming” ads in the Boston area in recent weeks, touting the industry’s $240 billion annual economic impact across the country.

“Our industry looks forward to a strong partnership with Everett, Plainville, Springfield and the people of Massachusetts,” AGA CEO Geoff Freeman said following the vote.

The pro-gaming effort focused on the jobs and revenue casinos would create for the state and local communities. The casinos also would help recapture $1 billion annually spent by Massachusetts residents in out-of-state casinos.

Outgoing Gov. Deval Patrick, who signed the original casino legislation, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who backed the bill, opposed the referendum. Candidates hoping to replace Patrick said they voted no on the measure.

The highest-profile supporter of the referendum was U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who is sometimes touted as an alternative to Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. The Boston Globe editorialized in favor of the casino repeal.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.

 

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