Anti-casino activists launch campaign in Springfield to support repeal of state's casino law

Anti-casino activists on Wednesday set their sights on Springfield, which would be home to Massachusetts' first licensed casino, as they attempt to win voter support for a November ballot question to repeal the state's casino law.

Organizers for "Repeal the Casino Deal" chose the city to hold their first formal meetings with volunteers since the state's highest court cleared the way for the question to be placed on the ballot. They said Springfield represents a key battleground since it would be home to a proposed $800 million MGM resort.

"Springfield is in many respects ground zero," spokesman David Guarino said. "They have a clear sense of what would happen if the law stays on the books."

MGM won voter approval for its proposed downtown Springfield casino last July, then state gambling regulators awarded it the state's first casino license last month, pending the outcome of the repeal question.

John Ribeiro, the anti-casino group's chairman, said the group will establish its campaign headquarters in East Boston and have a regional office in Springfield. He said the group hopes to build on already active bases of support in those areas as it expands the campaign statewide.

East Boston voters rejected a planned casino at the Suffolk Downs horse racing track, and some of its residents have been among the most vocal opponents of opening casinos in Massachusetts. Casino opponents in the Springfield-area communities of West Springfield and Palmer, meanwhile, defeated plans by Hard Rock International and Mohegan Sun.

Gambling companies that have joined forces to defeat the casino question declined to elaborate Wednesday on their political campaign.

The "Committee to Preserve Jobs Associated with Casino Gaming Law" officially filed organization papers with the state last week. But committee chairman Thomas Kiley said Wednesday that the group has not yet brought on campaign staff or begun soliciting or receiving donations.

MGM, Mohegan Sun and Penn National Gaming have said they will be among the entities financing the group.

MGM spokeswoman Carole Brennan said Wednesday that the Las Vegas-based casino giant is preparing for moving forward with the project if the repeal question is defeated.