It’s Time to Be Very Smart About Things

We were encouraged to read recently that Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno has backed off on his stance that only one casino proposal involving the city would be forwarded to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission for consideration.
“I have instructed our city departments and our consultants to conduct an open, fair, and robust competitive process that will allow me to choose the project or projects that best meet the city’s selection criteria,” said the mayor in a prepared statement issued a few weeks ago, one that used the words that should define this process until it is concluded: open, fair, and robust.
And it is with those words in mind that we applaud that decision and offer another strong reminder that, given the gravity of the situation, city officials must be extremely diligent in every decision made involving this matter, because mistakes can be costly, and in a number of ways.
And there is already ample evidence that the city hasn’t done that kind of diligence before making some rather critical decisions involving the casino issue.
But first, regarding the mayor’s decision to allow casino proposals, in the plural, to move on to the Gaming Commission: this makes all the sense in the world, because it heightens the competition, improves the city’s odds of eventually landing a casino within its borders, and brings a much higher level of integrity to the process.
Indeed, singling out one proposal would put too much power in the hands of the Springfield Casino Site Committee — when it belongs with the state Gaming Commission — and raise questions about the overall integrity of the process, given that this panel was selected by city councilors that have more than a passing interest in where the casino goes.
Initially limiting the Springfield casino sweepstakes to one horse is one of those decisions that apparently were not thought through by those who have been making them. And there are more examples of this.
Such as the hiring of the Chicago-based law firm now consulting for the city on the casino matter. That firm, Shefsky & Froelich, is a lobbyist in Illinois for MGM Resorts and Penn National Gaming, two of the casino companies vying to place a facility in the City of Homes.
Officials with Ameristar Casinos, another company that wants to build in the city, have raised questions about whether the consultant’s relationship with its competitors indicates a possible lack of neutrality on the matter, and they are right to do so. Shefsky & Froelich is now asking for a ruling on the matter from the state Ethics Commission, and Stephen Crosby, chairman of the state Gaming Commission, has gone so far as to ask Sarno to postpone the process for selecting a casino until the matter of a potential conflict of interest is resolved.
It seems logical that these questions should have been answered before the firm was hired, because failure to do so raises more questions about competence and integrity.
Meanwhile, there are questions about the Springfield Casino Site Committee itself, mainly about why the general manager of a local television station (Bill Pepin, of WWLP-TV 22) is a part of that mix.
MGM Resorts has already spent thousands of dollars with the station, and other players will likely do the same, creating what would by all accounts be a huge conflict of interest. Pepin is a very intelligent, thoughtful individual who has done a lot for Springfield over the years, but he simply shouldn’t be on this committee and accepting advertising dollars from casino companies at the same time.
In defense of those who have made these decisions over the past several months, they are maneuvering through uncharted waters; the state and this city have never gone through a process like this before. Meanwhile, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find an individual or company that doesn’t have some stake in the outcome of this casino contest.
That said, though, it’s critical that all those involved with this matter be extremely thorough, fair, and transparent in everything they do in order to ensure a process that is above reproach.