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The Massachusetts Gaming Commission approves $500,000 in WMass grants but warns this could happen to the Hampden sheriff last year

SPRINGFIELD — The Massachusetts Gaming Commission approved more than $570,000 in casino mitigation funds for Western Massachusetts on Tuesday, but warned the Hampden County Sheriff's Office that this could be the final year for the grant.

Gaming commissioners also repeatedly cited increasing pressure on the state budget while discussing Community Mitigation Fund grants in Western Massachusetts and elsewhere during a video conference.

The sheriff's office received its $400,000 in a 4-0 vote.

But Commissioner Eileen O'Brien said this would likely be the last year she would have voted yes on a sheriff's request in the last nine years.

The sheriff's office said it was inviting the Gambling Commission to tour the Mill Street addiction treatment facility, but said gambling regulators had not yet accepted the offer.

The problem dates back to when MGM Resorts International bought a $970 million property in Springfield's South End for the 14-acre resort casino.

The treatment center is known as the Western Massachusetts Recovery and Wellness Center and was located on the site of a former YWCA at 26 Howard St., which was purchased and demolished. The building dates from 1907.

The casino opened in August 2018, almost 6 years ago.

The sheriff's office moved the program first to Holyoke and eventually to 155 Mill St. in Springfield.

But the Mill Street building costs $1.15 million a year in rent, according to documents the Sheriff's Office submitted to the Gaming Commission. In comparison, the company paid $666,000 in rent at its old location.

Joe Delaney, community affairs director for the Gaming Commission, said it is also the ninth year of a 10-year lease.

O'Brien said she was skeptical about the connection between the increased costs and the casino, since the program was eliminated so long ago.

Delaney wondered aloud what the sheriff's office would do at the end of the lease.

“After the ten-year lease expires, we plan to extend it,” sheriff spokesman Robert Rizzuto said. “The facility is the first of its kind in the nation, and with approximately 90% of all justice-involved people in our care reporting some level of substance use disorder, addiction treatment is truly at the heart of our work and beyond .” more important than ever.”

If Gaming Commission funding goes away, Rizzuto said, lawmakers are aware there will be a $400,000 hole in the sheriff's budget related to addiction treatment.

For the Hampden District Attorney's Office, the $75,000 will be used to help handle criminal cases related to MGM Springfield. According to the filing, prosecutors handled 194 casino-related cases last year. There are also cases indirectly related to gambling, including domestic violence.

The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission received $98,000 to continue its study of small businesses owned by women and Black, Indigenous and other people of color.

The Planning Commission noted in its application that MGM Springfield had not met its minority hiring goals. It also set a goal of spending $50 million annually on local suppliers, but has only achieved an average of 33% of that goal.

Anna Harden

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