At the urging of the Massachusetts Gambling Commission, the City of Springfield will delay the start of its local casino competition so city leaders can address concerns about their selection process and a potential conflict of interest involving Springfield’s casino consultant.
“We are, in effect, the keepers of the integrity of the process,” said Stephen Crosby, chairman of the state gambling commission, explaining the panel’s request that Springfield delay its competition. “I do think we are all working together here and if one piece goes wrong it’s going to infect the whole process.”
City officials have accepted the commission’s invitation to meet Tuesday to discuss the selection process, said City Solicitor Edward M. Pikula. The commission has offered to meet in the Springfield area to make travel easier for local officials.
Springfield is a hot location for the gambling industry, with as many as four companies pursuing bids there: Ameristar, MGM Resorts, Penn National Gaming, and Hard Rock International.
Mayor Domenic Sarno outlined the city’s strategy for evaluating the competing proposals in August, a process the city had planned to kick off Wednesday. The competition was scheduled to conclude in mid-December, when the city would choose which project or projects would move forward. Those not chosen would be eliminated and unable to build in Springfield.
The gambling commission, which controls the state’s three resort casino licenses, has raised concerns about Springfield’s aggressive timetable. One key issue is that Springfield plans to choose its winning proposals before the state commission has completed its background checks of all the applicants. In theory, Springfield could choose a winner that is subsequently banned from bidding for a Massachusetts casino license, due to financial problems or concerns about the moral character of key employees or company officers.
Crosby also expressed concerns Tuesday about a potential conflict involving Springfield’s casino consultant, the Chicago firm Shefsky & Froelich.
The Globe reported last week that Shefsky & Froelich is the registered lobbyist in Illinois for MGM Resorts and Penn National Gaming. Another competitor in Springfield, Ameristar, questioned whether the consultant can provide the city with unbiased advice.
James Ferrera, president of Springfield’s City Council, said he might assemble a panel of members to review how the administration selected Shefsky & Froelich. “A conflict of interest, or a perceived conflict of interest, raises concerns about the full transparency of the process,” Ferrera said. “We want to ensure pure transparency.”
Sarno asked the state commission for “guidance and clarification” on the potential conflict.
Commissioner James McHugh said the issue would be better handled by the State Ethics Commission, and the gambling panel decided not to discuss the potential conflict until it meets with Springfield officials next week.
Cezar Froelich, chairman of Shefsky & Froelich, said in an interview that the company referred the matter to the Ethics Commission on Friday and asked for a written opinion, which he promised to release to the public.