The Hard Rock casino vote in West Springfield on Tuesday is the first gambling referendum this year in which the outcome is not obvious ahead of time.
The casino company’s own polling, released in late August, suggested that roughly 49 percent of local voters favored the project, while 41 percent were opposed. Those are nail-biting numbers for any casino developer. People who don’t want a casino in their town are generally more passionate than supporters, and therefore more likely to vote. That is especially important in a low-turnout special election.
But the August numbers indicate that Hard Rock may have improved its standing from dismal polling of just a few months ago. They have done it in large part by exploiting the little brother/big brother rivalry between West Springfield and its larger neighbor, Springfield, where MGM has proposed a competing gambling resort.
“Do We Gain the Benefits or Receive Only the Impact from a Casino in Downtown Springfield?” says a Hard Rock leaflet circulating in West Springfield. Despite what appears to be the random use of capital letters, the leaflet’s message is clear: Approving Hard Rock is the best way to stop Springfield from building a casino across the river, which could stick West Springfield with problems and almost no money to fix them.
In addition to MGM, Hard Rock is competing with a Mohegan Sun proposal in Palmer.
Closer to Boston, residents of Plainville will vote tomorrow on a slot parlor proposal at Plainridge Racecourse. If the vote passes it will complete a remarkable comeback for Plainridge, which seemed out of the slots competition in August after the state gambling commission disqualified the original ownership group from holding a casino license.
Plainridge caught a break when Tewksbury town meeting voters rejected a Penn National Gaming slots proposal on Aug. 20, leaving the company without a site and short on time. Plainridge and Penn quickly negotiated an option deal for the company to buy the track.
After Tuesday, the next casino vote is Sept. 24, for a slots proposal in Leominster.