April 23, 2013 Meeting Notes

Meeting of the City Council Site Committee

April 23, 2013


Meeting called to order approximately 6:00 PM.


Present:  Council Chair James Ferrera, Councilor Buddy Williams, Site Committee Chair Paula Meara, Site Committee Members:  Maurice Thomas,  Marty Loughman, April 23, 2013


Public Speak Out


Lani Boltfeld, 781-0795, a 28 yr resident of Springfield, a small business owner, a performing artist and teacher.  She started a program here in Springfield, took 10-15% less to do so.  She is concerned as she’s found small businesses do not do well when big business comes to town.  Atlantic City had 1/3 of their small businesses shut down.  Restaurants do not do well.  We need small businesses, not just a big box company.  

With her small children in her classes, she likes to take them outside, and now believes with increased panhandlers and atmosphere change she doesn't believe it will be possible.  There's a lot we can do for Springfield without this tsunami.


Dr. Frank Robinson,10 Carmody Dr., Springfield.  The Dr. has been a resident for a long time and will speak, along with his colleague, Katherine Szegda, the Director of the Western MA Casino Health Impact Assessment Project who is the

Director of Community-Based Research and Evaluation at Partners for a Healthier Community, Inc., 280 Chestnut St, 6th Floor, Springfield, MA 01101


Dr. Robinson explained he was the applicant to a grant to conduct a Western MA casino health impact assessment.  It's a tool, a look at health determinants that are directly related to a casino.  The obvious negatives are gambling, substance abuse, suicide and others, but there are a number of additional impacts, i.e., the way buildings are sited, it has an impact on pedestrian safety.  With bad design you increase injuries.  Some of these are not mental health issues. 


Ms. Szegda spoke of the award to do a health impact assessment explaining they don't look only at heath impacts, but also at health determinants as part of the process.  It's an evidence-based process.  They will identify specific concerns then look at the scientific literature to predict how this impacts the host communities.  Based on that we'll look at best practices and make recommendations.  We are hoping to inform you of the results for the host agreement, the referendum and hopefully the Gaming Commission.  We want to work with the community and will hope this information gets out and will be useful.

They will look at siting all throughout Hampden County.  It is particularly unique in that it looks at a high-level community engagement.  They expect to have a meeting on May 13th for Springfield and will ask the community to help us best design our assessment.  It is meant to inform the decision making process before it takes place.  

Ms. Szegda spoke of assessments done in Kansas and PA that looked at the slots.  Relatively new in Springfield, looking at the siting and the impact it will have on the community.  Their award is one of 8 awards nationally.  She stated the report includes evidence-based recommendations and they will not have results from the project until summer.  They provided a follow up letter and a copy of the Southeast Kansas Casino study in response to a request by Councilor Allen.  They will not have their final report until the end of November; however, a baseline assessment will be completed by the end of June.  


Calvin Feliciano, a Springfield resident spoke saying he is looking at jobs, impacts over next 30-40-50 yrs.  MGM has a better track record in terms of their employees, residency pieces they push.  


Yolanda Cancel spoke saying MGM would provide jobs and entertainment.  His son is a student at Sci-Tech, and we need to be teaching kids how to deal with more jobs, education, hotel management, great opportunity, supports MGM as it has more jobs.  Penn Nat has a lot more casino aspects vs. MGM has more entertainment in terms of resources for the community.  MGM's our best bet.  We have to deal with 


Atty Mike Kogut and Dr. Mark Mullen spoke in behalf of a group of concerned citizens.  Atty. Kogut spoke regarding the health risk aspects of a casinos and spoke of a letter to Helen Caulton Harris regarding the City of Toronto health risks.  He sent a copy of that to the Council President and will email anyone interested.  He Works hand-in-hand with Dr. Robinson's group and his study and offers the residents of Springfield a first hand look at what they can expect.


Dr. Mark Mullen, a lifelong city resident is the former city physician.   He discloses he is a member of the board of the NE Farmworkers Council who has an agreement with Mr. Picknelly & NEFWC.  He has not been a party to that and he is against either and both proposals.


Dr. Robinson will be looking directly at studies over the next 6-7 mos.  He understands there's a difference between Springfield & Ledyard, Atlantic City, Philly, etc, but there are clear similarities.  Will be willing to help Dr. Robinson with their study.  


He said there are six basic categories and spoke briefly of each to include business and employment costs (lost productivity, costs pr compulsive gambler, bankruptcies, etc), the long list of illnesses related to compulsive problem gambling, higher rates of depression, cognitive disorders, suicide, etc.  He also stated there are family Costs, both clearly in these areas and again within 50 miles of a casino (separation, child abuse & neglect, and an increase in family violence).  He spoke of an increase in fatigue related motor vehicle accidents, an increase in the cost of crime associated with apprehension & costs.  There is no easy solution for these problems.

The city has to be incredibly prepared to provide programs.  Part of mitigating the risk is educating the public.  Incredibly surprising to me how misunderstood the odds are of winning.  

He has potential solutions brought up in the Toronto study, including reducing hours of operation, restricting high modalities giving the impression people have some control over whether they win or lose, harm reduction on site, eliminating easy access to credit, limiting daily losses to people, etc.

Wall St. Journal, last Friday, old FAA policy, no longer in effect where all people who flew private jets had to provide flight plans to FAA unless there was a specific reason to avoid giving information to the public.


Dr. Mullen used an example of the danger of gambling saying Penn National in a letter to the FAA trying to exempt their executive planes from making public their flight plans saying lost revenue of nearly 3 B $ last year were of concern to their safety, saying some of these people may be angry, pathologically depressed gamblers and this could be a high profile way to get retribution.


Dr. Mullen spoke about depression and said 3 to 5% of gamblers will become compulsive gamblers. Casino revenues are dropping precipitously and they are going to have to find ways to bring more local people in.  Concerned about lower income people in Springfield and he is afraid it's going to become an even more serious problem.  


Chair Meara asked about the 50-mile population risk noting any Western MA casino would be within that distance from Springfield.


Council President Ferrera asks how many individuals have the potential to become problem gamblers and become compulsive and spoke of the potential numbers of customers the developers have mentioned.  Dr. Mullen gave the percentage of between 3 and 5 %.   President Ferrera stated Western MA was probably going to get a license.  Is there anywhere in Western MA where there would be a better location to have a casino or would you say no casino, period.  Dr. Mullen answered no casino is best, Springfield is the worst location.  Councilor Ferrera asked about limiting daily losses and the Dr. did not know of any place that does that.


Councilor Allen thanked Dr. Mullen for all the information and asked a question regarding mitigation monies and it was noted that MA is the first state to mandate those monies.


Atty Kogut spoke about the AG negotiated agreements with big tobacco, saying year after year those funds are not used for that purpose


It was noted the city has changed dramatically and it will change drastically, forever if a downtown casino comes to Springfield.  They stated their group has advocated from the start that this vote should be on the Nov ballot.  


End of public speak out.


Councilor Ferrera began a discussion of mitigation:

He sent out a release today with regards to mitigation, West Springfield, Palmer and Springfield.  Within the release he asked and also sent a letter to Jim Allen of Hard Rock, asking him to come to a casino siting committee to start the communication of mitigation.  West Springfield’s a stone's throw from Springfield and would have more of an impact than Palmer would.

Chairman Crosby was in town about a week ago.  The process of starting this mitigation should be now, running concurrently with any HCA being negotiated. He thought it important as the council is always staying ahead of the curb.  Jim Allen has returned the call, he missed it.  He's going to start the dialogue going. Springfield needs to be at the table if WS or if Palmer are successful.  No guarantee that Springfield will be awarded the gaming license, if WS is awarded it would have a tremendous impact on job creation.  We would be remiss if we did not begin to plan for it.  Agawam and Longmeadow have already been in early talks and communication.  It is critically important that Springfield at least starts that dialogue going.  


Councilor Williams: 

A very good idea.  Can we get a legal overview of what mitigation means.


Anthony Wilson, Associate City Solicitor spoke regarding 23K, the Gaming Commission statute re a community that's classified as a surrounding community.  The MGC is formulating a definition on surrounding community.  Developer is required to negotiate with them.    He is not aware if Hard Rock or the developer in Palmer has begun to negotiate, however, there is the wrinkle that we are now negotiating with a developer.  Our consultant stated we would do that after we see what happens here.


Chairman Ferrera spoke to Todd Akin at the MGC who stated mitigation could start.   Basically he said that if you can make a case that your community would be impacted, and then there would likely be some type of mitigation.  The councilor believes we would definitely make the case for WS, probably for Palmer.


Councilor Williams:  Mr. President, I'm becoming very frustrated with the communication with the City Council and this body.  We got a press release today.  We have not talked to the consultant, not to the attorney, anyone.  It's like this is being done in a vacuum.  Sooner or later the mayor has to walk down here and stand at this podium and make a presentation here.  He is the face of the community.  At the end of the day it's the mayor, not the consultant.  Councilor Allen has been at this.  He's hearing rumors the Mayor’s site committee is going to visit a casino.  There's just lack of communication.  Councilor Williams hates to hear of it by grapevine or read it in the newspaper.  The consultant's been great. He says he's advising the mayor.  Maybe he's communicating with the president or the chair.  It's like radio silence.  


Councilor Williams continues saying that at the end of the day, “I don't want him to wait until the 24th hour and hear:  hey, you've got to do this because of a deadline.  I've got to read about it in the newspaper!”



Councilor Allen suggests that one way is to write a letter to the mayor with our questions and invite him to a meeting.  He’d like to comment on something we voice voted on four weeks ago.  By voice vote we voted that the mayor bring forward just one casino.   Councilor Allen asked Mr. Crosby about this.  We are the only community that has more than one developer.

When the MGC met in Palmer last week, they decided that now you can run your referendum before suitability is done.  From a standpoint of trying to preserve the option, if the mayor sends us one and that one ends up not passing suitability, now we have zero.  I'm wondering if you send a letter to the mayor, that could be part of it.  We had four, then three, now just two strong competitors.  If they mayor only sends one or if he sends two and we approve just one, or the citizens do, there's a risk, if the mayor sends us one and that does not pass suitability, then we could end up with no casino.  When Councilor Allen asked Mr. Crosby about that last week he was told that as the gaming commission chair he hasn't thought of that.  


Councilor Ferrera agrees to some extent.

On Phase 1 there was some suitability done by the city.  We have a unique opportunity in regards to the consultant the city hired.  He has experience dealing with many jurisdictions.  With the mayor and his advisors negotiating and making a decision, he's really going to have to put forward what is the best proposal for the City of Springfield.  You have to have the knowledge he has more knowledge than we do.  He's guessing that the MGC's and their suitability is more in depth.

In regards to the regulation put out by the MGC, if you do the referendum before the suitability, there has to be an educational outreach to the community that if this is selected and then not found suitable, the voters must be informed.


Councilor Allen states he thought Attys Froelich and Pikula would be here and is told they were invited.

We're in this situation that there's still a chance that if the wrong one comes to us, and then we're left with none.  Both companies asked to just have one.  They both stated there's a brutal battle between the companies historically if it's one vs. another.  That happened in Maryland with the same two companies that are here in Springfield.

Councilor Allen states we have to be aware of our situation and it's worth communicating with the mayor on that.  Suitability will not be done until the end of August.  The state is looking at eleven companies.  They didn't give a hard date, but probably mid to late August.


Mr. Thomas asks a question with regard to what Councilor Allen's referring to. Hypothetically, if that happens, do we go after the company that lost or is it just done.  Is there some sort of way to restore the process?  Discussion ensues.


Councilor Williams made a motion to adjourn that was seconded and voted affirmatively.

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