Meetings & Information


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Don't Bet On It

Read the Letter from Plainville Residents to Governor Patrick about Voter Disenfranchisement and the September 10th referendum.

Don't Bet On It

"In gambling, the many must lose in order that the few may win." – George Bernard Shaw

Letter from Plainville Residents to Governor Patrick about Voter Disenfranchisement
18 September 2013
Massachusetts State House
Office of the Governor, Room 280
Boston, MA 02133
RE: Slots application in PlainvilleDear Governor Patrick:

We are compelled to write to you today because the September 10th vote to allow a gambling facility at Plainridge Racecourse preceded the due diligence owed the citizens of Plainville, thereby disenfranchising voters and skewing the results.

The HCA was not negotiated and signed in good faith

• To begin, the Host Community Agreement (HCA) that the Plainville Board of Selectmen agreed to on July 8th had been negotiated and signed during the period when Ourway Realty, LLC (Ourway) knew full well about their considerable troubles with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) audit. Unfortunately, until well after the HCA was signed, Plainville knew nothing about the “irregularities” that would eventually disqualify Ourway. Neither Ourway nor the MGC saw fit to inform Plainville about the looming financial problems at Plainridge. We maintain, therefore, that the HCA was not negotiated in good faith and should not be accepted by the MGC as a valid agreement.
Moreover, we maintain that the MGC abrogated its responsibility to Plainville as a potential Host Community, as well as to the towns surrounding Plainville as potential “surrounding towns,” by not making public all of the information they shared with Ourway before the HCA was signed.

Issues concerning timeliness and disenfranchisement

• As you know, in the course of Plainville’s epic journey toward the September 10th vote on slots, the MGC found Ourway unsuitable to apply for a slots license at Plainridge. Hard on the heels of the August 6th MGC decision to disqualify Ourway came the vote in Tewksbury that shut the door on the bid by Penn National Gaming (PNG) for a slots parlor there. PNG then set their sights on Plainville.

• On August 12th, when our selectmen signed the warrant to hold a September 10th referendum, there was no qualified Applicant to the HCA signed by Ourway and Plainville.

• On the afternoon of September 3rd, PNG paid $100 for an option to purchase Plainridge, should the MGC award them the license to operate a racetrack casino there.

• On the evening of September 3rd, The Plainville Board of Selectmen spoke with the representatives from PNG for the very first time during the meeting at which they signed the consent for transfer of the HCA from Ourway to PNG.

• After Ourway transferred the HCA to PNG, we alerted the MGC about our concerns regarding issues of timeliness. The text of the email sent to Chairman Crosby reads, in part:

…the Gaming Act … clearly states that the Applicant must sign the Host Community Agreement 60 days prior to the holding of a voter referendum. If the Applicant does not sign the HCA 60 days prior to the referendum, the application is incomplete, regardless of the vote. There is no subjective determination needed as to whether the Applicant signed the agreement 60 days before the vote; either it happened or it did not…
…The 60-day law is crystal clear; it says “an election shall take place [60 days] after the signing of an agreement between the Host Community and the Applicant.” In Plainville, the Applicant that signed the host community agreement 60 days before the election was Plainridge, not Penn National. And they are no longer an Applicant. How, then, can the HCA continue to exist, sans Applicant? How can Penn National take over a document to which it was not party, from an entity no longer eligible to be an Applicant?

• Unfortunately, the MGC decided that the section of the Gaming Act that requires a 60 day minimum between the date the Applicant signs the HCA and when the referendum takes place is only a “technicality.” At their meeting on September 6th, the MGC voted to allow PNG to assume the position of Applicant for the slots license at Plainridge.

• Because PNG and the selectmen did not make their arrangement until one week before the referendum, the voters in Plainville had only six days to investigate and share what could be learned about the new “Applicant” in the severely truncated process.

• The MGC did not conclude its vetting of PNG before the vote in Plainville, and therefore made no determination as to suitability before voters went to the polls; we voted without benefit of information gathered and interpreted by the MGC.

We agree and amplify what the selectmen in Hopkinton wrote to you:
The MGC has failed to meet its own deadlines for certain activities, yet has not adjusted the overall process timing as a result. As an example, background checks on all the applicant groups were supposed to be completed in advance of potential host communities voting on those proposals… The obvious conclusion is that the MGC simply does not want voters to be fully informed regarding their proposed partners.

• In addition to the already enumerated issues surrounding the vote, there was no qualified Applicant for the slots license on August 21st, the final day for registering for the September 10th vote in Plainville. Therefore, many people thought there would be no referendum. By the time PNG, Ourway, and Plainville made their deal, the date to register was long gone, and some residents were not able to vote as a result.

• The MGC, PNG, Ourway, and the selectmen all believed that a few days were plenty of time for the people of Plainville to discover and digest information about PNG, and to react and respond to the change of “Applicant.” While the Applicants for a gaming license are flush with disposable income for public relations, polls, signs, mailings, etc., the residents in the towns where gambling facilities are proposed are often forced to scrape together private funds just to buy a few signs and print a few flyers. It’s a serious blind spot in the legislation that leaves the public — in particular any opposition in the poorer towns — at a distinct disadvantage. (Even the chair of the MGC said in a recent televised interview that he wouldn’t want a casino near his home because of the drop in property values; he is privileged to live in a town that would never even consider a casino. We are not.)
By necessity, those of us with concerns about expanded gambling in our town had to communicate about the referendum and the new Applicant door-to-door, neighbor-to- neighbor. To do that effectively would have taken more than those six days immediately after Labor Day, with people returning from summer holiday and school just beginning. One week between the introduction of a new acting owner and the referendum was simply unacceptable.

Issues of adequate and appropriate information to the voters

• Neither the September 10th ballot (enclosed) nor the letter from the Plainville selectmen to voters — required by the MGC to alert citizens to the fact that the MGC had not finished vetting PNG (enclosed) — provided any information about the projected costs to the town. The only information available through that letter was the revenue Plainville expected to receive from expanded gambling at Plainridge. There were many actual and projected costs in the report prepared by Cummings Associates, the gambling consultant hired by the Plainville selectmen. The fact that those costs did not appear beside the projected revenues slanted the available information and manipulated the vote in favor of slots at Plainridge.

Issues of public access to the process

• The Plainville selectmen have wanted slots at Plainridge for as long as Ourway has owned a harness racing track in Plainville. The selectmen even lobbied for slots during the legislative hearings a few years ago. As a result, there has never been an antagonistic point of view presented at any official level to balance the selectmen’s enduring commitment to expanded gambling at Plainridge. In fact, citizens who have opposed expanded gambling have often met with open disdain and dismissiveness from the Plainville selectmen and town administrator.

Given the selectmen’s overarching predisposition for slots, we and other residents asked them to appoint a citizens’ advisory committee to assist in the pre-HCA information gathering process, but we were denied. We asked to have a citizen appointed to the negotiating committee, but we were denied. Consequently, the voice of the citizens was inadequately represented in the process. The abbreviated Q&A at the gambling consultants’ forums was never adequate for the questions and concerns we had; there was always a time constraint, with no opportunity for in-depth discussions, and the materials to be discussed were not available ahead of time. The meetings with the consultant were not publicized on the Town’s Posted Meetings calendar, but instead were buried in the Town’s website, rarely in the same place twice. Meetings were always held on weekday evenings, a time particularly hard for parents of young families to attend. This was brought to the attention of the town administrator, but no accommodations were made. For these reasons and others, having enough time to conduct a campaign to give the voters of Plainville another perspective and more information before the referendum became extremely important.

Checks and balances
• Those of us who expressed grave concerns about expanded gambling in the commonwealth were assured that the Gaming Act had checks and balances to protect citizens and towns. Instead, Plainville voters were dealt the triple whammy of an HCA not negotiated in good faith because Ourway and the MGC withheld information, no determination of PNG’s suitability by the MGC, and less than a week for voters to gather and share information about PNG. The process hoodwinked the negotiators for Plainville and disenfranchised the voters — a situation that also affects the residents of the towns surrounding Plainville.

• We have been told by the MGC that the remedy to our concerns about the lack of due diligence, voter disenfranchisement, and adequate time to present facts to the voters is that we will have the opportunity to give testimony during the licensing hearings. This is like telling someone that it’s okay to buy a house before having it inspected, because they can always have the inspections done after they sign the mortgage. It’s just not sound practice.

To quote the Hopkinton selectmen once again:

For this reason, we ask that you immediately take a series of steps to repair this badly broken process and demonstrate a commitment to the critical principals of good government. …we ask that you direct the MGC to place its entire process on hold while the timing issue and other shortcomings are fixed. …we ask that you direct the MGC to undertake all of its activities in full accordance with both the letter and spirit of the Commonwealth and the directions of the Commission’s charter.

In addition, we pray you take a hard look at the ability of residents across the commonwealth to have a meaningful voice in this process. The rights of citizens — especially those of us in the poorer host communities and surrounding towns — are being trampled underfoot in the march toward expanded gambling in Massachusetts. Surely that was not the intent of the Massachusetts Gaming Act, and it needs to be fixed.

We look forward to your response.

Mary-Ann Greanier
19 Mirimichi Street, Plainville
Peter Schoonmaker
27 Cuttings Lane, North Attleborough
(Plainville property owner)
Marcia Benes
56 Taunton Street, Plainville
Robin Pollack
59 Walnut Street, Plainville
Don Pollack
59 Walnut Street, Plainville
Mary Gibeault
25 South Street, Plainville
Wayne Bryant
19 Mirimichi Street, Plainville
Tanya Perkins
67 George Street, Plainville
Ray Johnson
10 Red Coat Lane, Plainville
K. Lindsay Martucci
73 George Street, Plainville
Pamela Chin
60 Mirimichi Street, Plainville
Melinda Pollock-Umana
59 Walnut Street, Plainville
Chester Chin
60 Mirimichi Street, Plainville
Libby Jensen
6 Shepard Street, Plainville
Patricia Hoyceanyls
5 Birchwood Drive, Plainville

State Senator Richard Ross
Massachusetts Gaming Commission
Secretary of State William Galvin
Patrick Hanley, Gaming Enforcement Division AGO Plainville Board of Selectmen
Hopkinton Board of Selectmen
Foxborough Board of Selectmen
Wrentham Board of Selectmen
North Attleborough Board of Selectmen
Mansfield Board of Selectmen
Common Cause Massachusetts

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