Anti-casino group readies final campaign push
SPRINGFIELD -- Buoyed by successful petition drives to place the 2011 state law that legalized casinos before voters in November, the group Repeal the Casino Deal is reorganizing for a final push.
With a Boston office now open and another in Springfield opening this week, Darek Barcikowski, the group's campaign manager, said the plan is to expand upon the organization's previous grass-roots efforts.
"For us, this will pretty much be a ground game," Barcikowski said. "We will be on air with advertisements, but we might not be able to compete with the [gambling] industry."
He and the group's Western Massachusetts coordinator, Alan Cabot, said the organization intends to call on the more than 200 volunteers who gathered signatures to place the referendum on casino gambling on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Question 3 will seek repeal of the casino legislation.
With those people and new volunteers, gambling opponents plan to reach out to voters and spread their message in person, by going door-to-door, through phone messages, email, and social media, and by scheduling informational events around the state.
"We are confident this can be a winning strategy," Barci kowski said, citing campaigns in individual communities where casino projects were rejected despite citizen groups being greatly outspent by proponents.
"We can't match them over the airways, on TV," Cabot said, "so we have to battle them with arguments."
Casino proposals have been voted down in Palmer, Mil ford and West Springfield. Thus far, state and local ap provals have been secured for MGM Resorts Inter national's proposed $800 million casino for downtown Springfield, while Penn National Gaming was approved for a slots parlor in Plainville.
"We consider it an educational and a health issue," Cabot said, and a principal goal will be to spread information about the negative effects on families and on crime rates, and to challenge the overall economic benefit of casinos.
Cabot said that in addition to the outreach efforts, there will be a number of events scheduled at schools, churches and other sites where speakers will give a presentation on gambling-related topics.
Lee Cheek, of Egremont, was one of the volunteers who helped gather signatures to place the question on the Nov. 4 state ballot.
"I became interested in the casino question when it first came up," said Cheek, referring to legislation that passed in November 2011.
Cheek said she was particularly impressed by research using medical scanning equipment which concluded that "in brain imaging on cocaine and on the new [electronic] slot machines, you can't tell which is on crack and which is [in front of] a slot machine."
"I thought, why should the state be involved in that?" Cheek said.
She was also convinced by reports that the newer slot machines, which are easy to play quickly and repeatedly and accept credit cards, "are designed to get you to play to extinction ... You can really get lost in that world."
Cabot said the first signature drive in 2013 collected 68,000 signatures supporting placement of the referendum on the state ballot, while the second -- required because the Legislature declined to place the question on the ballot -- needed at least another 11,485 signatures to force its inclusion this fall.
Nearly 27,000 signatures were gathered in that second effort, Cabot said.
In addition, according to Barcikowski, the campaign gathered more interest and momentum when Attorney General Martha Coakley ruled that the question did not have to be included on the ballot, but that decision was unanimously overturned in June by the state Supreme Judicial Court.
Coakley had argued that a repeal via referendum would affect the implied contract rights of the casino developers and would be unconstitutional.
Cabot said reaching out to those who signed the petitions and the volunteers will provide a solid base to build the fall campaign in each region and community of the state.
Anyone interested in be coming involved can find information on the website, www.re pealthecasinodeal.org or through social media, he said.
To reach Jim Therrien:
or (413) 496-6247.
On Twitter: @BE_therrien
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