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Casino-Free Milford Issues “Call to Action” on Referendum

Stacks of anti-casino signs were handed out at Casino-Free Milford's "Call to Action" forum on September 18.

More than 350 people – overflowing the 250 seats that were set up – crowded into a basement room in the St. Mary of the Assumption Parish Center on the night of September 18 to hear four speakers at a "Call to Action" event that Casino-Free Milford Co-chair Steve Trettel said was the start of an eight-week fight to defeat the proposed Foxwoods resort casino at the November 19 referendum.

"To quote my grandson, OMG," Trettel exclaimed as he looked out at the crowd. "What we're about is neighbor-to-neighbor. Not hired guns going around neighborhoods ticking people off." His anti-casino group had stations set up for residents to volunteer in each of the town's eight voting precincts. "The most important asset we have to oppose the casino is sitting right here," he said.

State Representative John Fernandes, D. Milford, former Connecticut Congressman Robert Steele, Alan Cabot of "No Casino West Springfield" and Selectmen Chairman William Buckley – who received a standing ovation for his opposition to the casino and host community agreement – spoke to the crowd for about 90 minutes, with their comments punctuated by Trettel and his co-chair, John Seaver, exhorting the crowd to sign up, get a lawn sign, and volunteer.

Fernandes outlined the state legislature's role in drafting the state law that allowed casino gambling in Massachusetts, and the safeguards he wanted – and saw enacted – in that law: a local government agreement, a referendum for a community's residents, and then having to follow local planning and zoning laws. "These things were very important to me," he said. Saying he has yet to read the host community agreement, Fernandes said, "I haven't personally taken a position."

In response to an audience member's question about what she could do to make sure the rest of the town could learn about how the Braggville section of Milford and Holliston was going to be affected by the casino, Fernandes replied, "Your role is to make sure others in the community know how you're impacted." His last remarks were, "I understand how passionate people are about this. That's acceptable." But, he cautioned the audience to value others' opinions as well.

Steele talked at length about the experience Connecticut has had since the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos first opened, and how a "pervasive gambling culture" now exists in almost every state in the country. Outside of going to Las Vegas, he said, casinos have turned out to be "convenience casinos for local visitors." Retired State Representative Marie Parente commented on Steele's remarks, saying, "The problem with casinos is good, decent, honest, ordinary people have to lose so they can make money. It's bad business for Milford."

Cabot said his group only had 40 days to organize and successfully defeat a casino proposed for West Springfield. "You are so much farther ahead," he said. Seaver described Cabot's town as similar to Milford in terms of population and amount of money promised in its host community agreement.

"You're going to find a lot of money wandering around the town in the next few months," Cabot said, as Foxwoods will run "a very sophisticated advertising campaign" run by professionals. "They've got millions of dollars, but we've got the people and the relationships. I wouldn't bet against you."

Cabot noted that Milford's municipal finances are in great shape, adding "You're not that desperate" to receive money from a casino. "You've still got a lot of work," he told the audience. "It's even better if each of you goes to your next-door neighbor."

Buckley closed the event by stating, "For the record, I'm not anti-casino. I'm pro-Milford." His personal opposition to the casino came from deciding whether it would or would not change "the character of the community," he explained. "This isn't going to improve Milford as a community," he said. But, as chairman of his board, "I negotiated as hard as I could," to get the best host community agreement, Buckley said.

"It's important that we debate honestly and respectfully, with the consideration that they might not feel the way you do. That's okay." He noted that whether the casino is built or not, "We all have to live with each other and we all have to see each other at the local market." Concluding, Buckley advised the audience to "take the high road always. Be honest to yourselves."

Calling the fight against the casino a "David and Goliath situation," Buckley told the crowd to "be part of something. I don't know if we will see anything in our lifetimes that's this big. Then, show up and decide."


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