Gambling Panel Questions Springfield Officials Over Casino Consultant, Selection Timetable
The panel overseeing gambling in Massachusetts held a public hearing in Springfield today [Tuesday]. The hearing focused on the city's hiring of a consultant with possible conflict-of-interest issues and the timetable of Springfield's process to select one or more potential preferred developers. The State Gaming Commission, which called the hearing more of a fact finding mission, began asking Springfield officials about the city's hiring of Shefsky and Froelich as a casino consultant. The Chicago law firm is a registered lobbyist in Illinois for two casino operators seeking to develop a resort in Springfield, raising conflict-of-interest concerns. City Solicitor Ed Pikula defended the hiring, saying the firm fully disclosed its relationship with the casinos, and were the best choice for helping to vet Springfield's selection process.
“The gaming industry is highly specialized and where the casino operators all have very high-powered consultants. And in order to negotiate the best agreement or agreements possible with these companies, the city needs to retain the same high powered consultants that the casino operators utilize.”
Pikula says the hiring has been referred to the State Ethics Commission for review, but noted the Gaming Commission itself has also hired consultants with ties to casino operators. There was more animated, at times even contentious, debate between Commission members and City officials over the timetable of Springfield's process to select one or more developers and put the issue before voters. Commissioner James McHugh says he was concerned the city was rushing a process that could create lots of problems.
“The host community agreement under your schedule is going to be signed by January. And it is unlikely, I will tell you, although we're trying to work as quickly as we can, that we will have by January developed all of the criteria for which we're going to be looking in a license application. And therefore I’m concerned about the possibility that you have a host community agreement that you're ready to put to a vote of the city, that doesn't in the end meet all of the criteria that we're looking for.”
But Kevin Kennedy, Springfield Economic Development Officer, suggested the state's timetable may actually be too slow, saying time Is of the essence for a city trying to recover and rebuild after last year's tornado and ice-storms.