How do you fight a resort casino development of up to $1 billion? Beginning with small steps, and leading up to a larger campaign.
For the first time since the filing of a casino application for a site in Milford, near Interstate 495, opponents met at Milford Town Hall Monday and talked about how to get organized, grow in numbers, and influence local voters.
About 60 people attended the organizational meeting, spilling out of the meeting room into the hallway. Most attendees were from Holliston and Hopkinton, based on a show of hands. But as some of the participants pointed out, the meeting was not widely publicized.
"It's not that Milford people don't care," said Milford resident Beverly Swymer. "They didn't know about it. I'm sure more people will come forward."
The meeting was called together by Ken Rockett and other organizers of Casino Free Milford, a group that has drawn most of its members from the surrounding towns to Milford, including Holliston, which borders the proposed site. Only Milford residents will get a referendum vote on the project, if it gets to that point, which inspired several people to say the group needed to begin reaching out in Milford and reaching likely voters.
Joe Mastrangelo, of Holliston, said small business owners may assume, incorrectly, that they will get business from casino visitors. Casinos are designed to keep people inside them. "Nobody is going to leave the casino," he said. "They're not going to get a sandwich at Caffe Sorrento. Ain't going to happen."
Colorado-based developer David Nunes, working with Warner Gaming, submitted an application last month, one of three before the Massachusetts Gaming Commission proposed for the greater Boston region.
The Milford development, called Crossroads Massachusetts, would directly compete for the single available license for the region with two other applications in or near Boston: one at the Suffolk Downs site in East Boston, submitted by a group of eight partners, including Ceasars Entertainment Corp; and a resort casino proposed for a former industrial site in Everett, submitted by Wynn Resorts.
The state also will authorize up to one slots parlor, a resort-casino for the western Massachusetts, as well as up to one in southeastern region of the state.
Casino Free Milford operates a website, and a Facebook page, and its organizers have been in contact with Foxborough residents, who succeeded in building community opposition to a casino proposed last year in that town. The group members have already conducted some research into gathering facts and reports on casino impacts on surrounding communities, and on so-called secondary effects, such as crime and traffic increases.
Local opponents in Milford will need to build on the information, and conduct a campaign that is like any other political campaign, said John Seaver, a health care consultant and former selectman in Milford.
"You've got to keep your eyes on the ball," Seaver said. "Milford is the host community. This organization needs to take on a Milford face."
He pointed out that Milford is different than Foxborough politically; the battle will not be won here by voting out selectmen, he said, which is what happened in Foxborough. Three candidates that were anti-casino were voted on to the board of selectmen in that town, and they then refused to negotiate with the developer.
In Milford, one selectman, William Buckley, is opposed to a casino. Two others, Dino DeBartolomeis and Brian Murray, have said they want to wait and see what is proposed. Murray is running for re-election this spring, and as yet has no opponent. But Seaver told opponents, who started talking about putting forward a candidate to run against him, that it wasn't going to work.
"You are not going to defeat this selectman; forget about what Foxborough did," Seaver said.
Although he did not identify himself to the group, Murray attended the meeting. He said outside the room, after it ended, that he did not want to distract from the discussion. He said he still felt the concerns were premature, that he wasn't convinced the Nunes project would make it out of the first phase of state review, which involves an investigation into his and his partner's financing and past regulatory history.