West Springfield voters dealt a devastating blow Tuesday to an $800 million Hard Rock casino plan, rejecting the proposal at a referendum and eliminating a prominent competitor for the Western Massachusetts resort casino license.
The vote makes Hard Rock the first gambling project proposed under the 2011 casino law to be defeated in a public referendum. After a campaign that featured an overwhelming spending advantage by casino proponents, the final tally was 4,165 against and 3,413 in favor of the project. The special election’s turnout was 45.7 percent, according to the West Springfield city clerk’s office.
The defeat leaves just two rivals for the Western Massachusetts license: MGM in Springfield and Mohegan Sun in Palmer.
Halfway across the state, voters in Plainville endorsed a Penn National Gaming Inc. slot parlor at Plainridge Racecourse Tuesday, completing a remarkable turnaround for a project that seemed doomed just last month.
The Plainville vote was 1,582 in favor to 502 opposed, a turnout of about 37 percent.
The results were read at the Beatrice Wood School, the town’s lone polling location, to a loud cheer from about 25 townspeople, many of whom said public opinion had been swayed by the promise of more than $4 million a year in additional tax revenues and a strong desire to keep harness racing alive in the state.
“We got our votes out; this town needs this,” said Dale Bergvine, a lifelong resident and a member of a pro-slots group, People for Plainville.
Prospects for a gambling and restaurant complex at Plainridge, off Interstate 495 and Route 1 about 5 miles south of Gillette Stadium, appeared grim last month, when casino regulators found the track’s ownership group unfit to compete for the state’s sole slot parlor license. The decision followed revelations that former president Gary Piontkowski had taken more than $1 million from the track’s money room over several years.
But Penn National made an 11th-hour move to secure an option to buy the track, after it did not win a zoning change for a slots parlor in Tewksbury.
Last week, Plainville selectmen agreed to transfer the host community agreement they had previously negotiated with Plainridge’s owners to Penn National, and the state Gaming Commission voted to accept the transfer, allowing Penn to pursue the slots license for the track. Penn still must pass its state background check, expected to be finished this month.
Mary-Ann Greanier, a member of No Plainville Racino, said her group is considering its next move, which could include a lawsuit. “The process isn’t working,” she said. “The safeguards we were told to expect are not taking place.”
Penn will compete for the slots license with the Cordish Cos., which is planning a gambling parlor in Leominster, and Raynham Park, the simulcast betting parlor and former dog track in Raynham. Cordish and Raynham Park have passed background checks, and voters have in Raynham endorsed the Raynham Park proposal in a referendum. Leominster residents will vote Sept. 24.
A slots proposal in Millbury was withdrawn last week by the developer, an affiliate of Rush Street Gaming, citing a lack of community support.
In West Springfield, Hard Rock ran an intensive campaign the past several months to try to overcome early polling numbers that suggested the election would be a tough battle for the Florida-based gambling operation. It signed a host community deal with West Springfield that would have provided more than $26 million in annual payments to the community and the region, with a minimum $18 million guaranteed to West Springfield each year.
Opponents were able to defeat the project even though Hard Rock spent close to $1 million on its effort, according to campaign finance reports.
MGM has already won the endorsement of Springfield voters.
Residents of Palmer go to the polls Nov. 5 to decide the fate of the Mohegan Sun plan. Both companies are still awaiting the results of their state background checks.
The state gambling commission expects to award the resort license early next year.
Three applicants are competing for the Greater Boston resort casino license: Suffolk Downs in East Boston; Wynn Resorts in Everett; and Foxwoods in Milford.
Bidding for a resort casino license in Southeastern Massachusetts is ongoing; the deadline for new applicants is Sept. 30. No developers have applied.