Casino Saga Ends Badly in Palmer

There have certainly been a great many surprises in the two years since lawmakers passed legislation authorizing casino gambling in Massachusetts — developers getting in and dropping out; Holyoke’s mayor reversing himself, and then reversing himself again; residents saying ‘no’ in community after community; operators not passing muster with the Gaming Commission; competition for coveted licenses evaporating.
But perhaps the biggest surprise is just how badly things ended in Palmer (and they’re not over yet, apparently) between that community and Mohegan Sun.
Consider these remarks from Town Council member Paul Burns in a press release he sent to local media outlets late last month: “regretfully, I have to acknowledge that, as those on the anti-casino side indicated, Mohegan Sun cannot be trusted.” And, “Mohegan’s loss at the polls was not the result of a divided community, but the result of a conflicted casino company more focused on ensuring their financial viability and protecting their Connecticut property than they were on securing a license.” And, “good neighbors don’t work to impoverish their neighborhood. Good neighbors aren’t vindictive. Good neighbors care about more than their bottom line.”
It’s hard to imagine Burns, an ardent supporter of this project for as long as it’s been on the drawing board, offering such opinions two years ago or even two months ago. After all, Mohegan and Palmer have been linked in a project longer than any other community/developer tandem. Actually, we now need to use the past tense — Mohegan is now officially partners with Suffolk Downs in a bid to place a casino on track property in Revere — and this development is now clouded with intense controversy.
Indeed, since Palmer’s residents turned thumb’s down to Mohegan’s plans to build just off exit 8 of the turnpike early last month, the conspiracy theorists have been working overtime, and the really ugly side of the casino business has come into full view.
First, there were claims about a voting machine malfunctioning at a critical time, creating questions about the 93-vote defeat of the measure. Then, there were claims from pro-casino forces that the town clerk was making it difficult for gaming advocates to register to vote for the referendum, generating more questions about the tally.
But then, the focus shifted, from the vote and a planned recount (which upheld the original outcome) to the strong rumors that Mohegan Sun was talking with officials at Suffolk Downs well before the vote in Palmer.
And the conspiracy theories started multiplying. Indeed, the growing sentiment in Palmer is that Mohegan claimed to want a site in that community purely to minimize the impact on its facility in Connecticut (Palmer is readily accessible to people in the Nutmeg State via I-84), and that it stayed in the game in that town — it was the last developer to pay the licensing fee and draft a host-community agreement — just long enough to keep another casino operator from building at that location.
Those now quite angry with Mohegan Sun claim the company was either overconfident or ambivalent (or both, if that’s possible) going into the referendum vote and certainly didn’t work hard enough, or effectively enough, to change the eventual outcome. Further, the conspiracy theorists contend, Mohegan, by virtue of that referendum vote, has the best scenario possible — no casino in Palmer at all, and possibly one with the Mohegan Sun name on it just outside Boston.
Some are even saying that Mohegan tanked the Palmer vote to get pretty much everything it wanted.
We don’t know how much stock to put in all this, but things certainly don’t look good for Mohegan Sun right now — at least from a PR perspective and with regard to its five-year relationship with the struggling community of Palmer, which certainly seemed to buy into Mohegan’s rhetoric about a grand resort casino on the hill above the turnpike.
Maybe the best thing we can say at this point is that none of what is happening should actually be considered surprising. This is, after all, a business where greed and profits come before all else.

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