SALISBURY — Cordish Companies’ proposal to build a slots-only casino in town isn’t Salisbury’s first go-round with an outside company that wants to locate gambling within its borders.
In 2000, a tempest swirled as residents worked through the prospect of Harveys Casino Resorts of Nevada building a massive gambling and hotel complex on their beach. Even though gambling had not been legalized in Massachusetts at the time, Harvey’s had options to buy from local owners large amounts of oceanfront property at the beach center. Then-state Sen. James Jajuga, D-Methuen, had spent six years filing bills in the state Legislature hoping to allow gambling at Salisbury Beach.
A local initiative, “The Vote No Casino Committee,” was launched by Jerry Klima to nix the movement, leading to a head-on fight with the pro-casino group. Backed by a handful of big donors, gambling advocates raised $63,000, about 10 times as much as local anti-casino activists.
But at May 2000’s town elections, voters turned out in record numbers for a non-binding referendum on whether they wanted gambling at the beach. By a margin of 56-44 percent, voters soundly rejected the idea of a beachfront gambling casino, with a vote of 1,804 to 1,440.
More than 3,200 residents voted, 66 percent of the town’s registered voters at the time. After analyzing the ballots cast, it turned out only 15 people left the casino question blank, compared to 1,314 blanks in the selectmen’s race.
The result put an end to the movement at Salisbury Beach Center.
“The voters have spoken and I will respond to their wishes,” Jajuga said after that vote.
Charles Takesian, at the time spokesman for the merchants who wanted to sell their beach businesses to Harveys, said he believed the vote ended the dreams of a casino at the beach.
The 2000 non-binding referendum led to gambling prohibitions in beach zoning. But there is still a question on whether it could have any impact on the new move to site a slotsino on Route 110.