Voters in New Bedford have resoundingly approved a casino referendum, with 8,355 voters in favor of the project, and 3,040 against. The comfortable margin of 73 percent suggested that most voters agree that a casino could bring many new jobs, as well as a boost to the city’s image.
Andrew Stern is Operating Partner in K-G Urban Enterprises, the organization behind the casino effort. He sat at a small table outside Tia Maria’s Café in downtown New Bedford, savoring the outcome.
“What pleased me most was to see that it was a true city-wide show of support, and it came from everywhere,” Stern said. “It was a wave. And the confidence and the trust that was shown for K-G, I thought, was at a very….level of hope.”
Stern said he also appreciated the level of community involvement in becoming thoroughly educated about how the process is going to work.
“The extent to which people voted and engaged on what we proposed, and on the facts and merits of it knowing that it isn’t perfect and it isn’t finalized,” he said.
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said he was particularly happy about the efforts of the city to give voters the information they needed. This included hosting three informational forums around the city, and posting the Host Community Agreement with K-G Urban on the City’s website.
“The Host Community Agreement for this project was something that we spent a lot of time thinking about, and negotiating. We took a very tough stand, and at the end of the day, we arrived at an agreement that accentuates the benefits of the project, and softens the risks,” Mitchell said.
Of the $12-million annual payments that K-G Urban will make to the city of New Bedford under the agreement, $5 million will go to economic development agencies that focus on efforts like port preservation and historic preservation. The remainder will go into the general fund.
73-year old Emily Johns lives in Acushnet Heights. She voted for the casino.
“I was pleased. I’m hoping for the cleanup of the polluted site and for the walkway along the harbor. I’m tired of seeing the NStar site as it is now, as a black hole in New Bedford,” she commented.
But not everyone is happy about the potential problems a New Bedford casino could create. Reverend David Lima is Executive Minister of the Inter-Church Council of Greater New Bedford.
“There’s gonna be people with addictions. We’re gonna have to help them,” Lima said. “There’s gonna be people that could end up homeless. It’s well-documented again that casinos end up with more mortgages than some local banks. Families end up losing their mortgages to these people. Foxwoods and Mohegan have had a “lend and lien” policy. They’ll lend you money against your house or your car, and they end up putting a lien on it and taking it.”
K-G Urban now moves to the second phase of the application process to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. The Commission will eventually choose between New Bedford and Brockton as the final site for the one remaining casino license in the State. 73% of New Bedford voters embrace a casino as part of the city’s future. And they hope the Commission is equally enthusiastic.