Springfield Is Now Casino Central

Seemingly overnight — although it has actually been this way for months — Springfield has become ground zero in the ongoing and increasingly bizarre efforts to usher in the casino era in Massachusetts.
Indeed, while many of the initiatives are in their infancy stages — meaning there are no casino developers attached to them — there are now apparently at least three casino projects in the making in Springfield, and perhaps many more that are soon to be on the drawing board. Compare this to other regions of the state, specifically the eastern and southeastern areas, where there is little if any competition for casino licenses at this stage, and it’s clear that Springfield may well become the main battleground in perhaps the most important new business development in the Commonwealth in a generation — or two, or three.
And because the stakes are so enormous, there is, or should be, tremendous pressure on the city and its officials to get this right. And already there are signs that this is going to get very, very ugly, and potentially bad for the City of Homes.
But let’s back up a minute. Recent headlines have revealed the existence of what have become known in some circles as the “north” and “south” casino plans, reportedly being pieced together by brothers Peter (the north) and Paul Picknelly. The latter apparently involves aggregation of several parcels in the tornado-ravaged South End of the city, while the former involves property just off I-91 in the North End, including the sprawling Springfield Newspapers building. That’s an intriguing development that leaves the region’s largest media outlet unable to comment on perhaps the most important aspect of the casino issue (where to put one) and with a serious credibility issue when it comes to coverage of all aspects of this saga.
But that’s another story.
The real story in our view, is that because of the strong political support for casinos in Springfield, fueled in large part by the city’s continuing fiscal struggles and urgent need for jobs, and corresponding strong interest from developers, there is an apparently bitter battle brewing that has the potential to divide the community (people are already settling into various camps) and turn what could be a great opportunity into a situation where it might be difficult to tell who, if anyone, actually wins.
There is already speculation among some city leaders, including Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy, that intense competition for a casino license in Springfield will wind up benefiting the community. The theory goes that with so many suitors, the city can likely broker a better deal from any and all of the players. We hope they’re right, but so many rival plans may wind up creating a situation where people are working against one another to get what’s best for them, instead of working together, as they should be, to get what’s best for the community.
And in the meantime, all this focus on casinos is very likely to divert needed attention from the many other issues facing this city — from schools to poverty.
We’re not sure it’s possible — in fact, we’re quite sure it’s not possible — to get the city and its officials behind one casino plan and make a concerted effort to create a proposal that works for the community and could gain the favor of the Gaming Commission that will ultimately decide which projects earn licenses.
But that would be our hope, because despite projections to the contrary, we believe a long, protracted casino battle will likely hurt Springfield in the long run.