By Dustin Luca
---- — TEWKSBURY — An overwhelming 61 percent of Tewksbury voters shot down a casino bid at last night’s Special Town Meeting, ending a flurried month of preparation for what ultimately will never become.
Out of 2,563 voters who turned out for the meeting, 1,568 voted against rezoning land on Ames Pond Drive, just over the Andover town line, to add gaming use.
Andover Board of Selectmen Chairman Alex Vispoli, joined by other “visitor” town officials, said he was “relieved” by the vote, which he watched in a non-voter section above the apparent record-setting deliberational body of Tewksbury voters.
Now, with the prospect of a casino on the town line having run its course, Vispoli said he’s looking to the future.
“We look forward to working with Tewksbury on larger, regional issues such as the I-93 interchange and matters that affect all of us,” he said.
Andover Planning Board member Lelani Loder said she was impressed by the turnout, wishing something like it could come home with her.
“We need to have voter turnout like this,” she said. “It shouldn’t take a casino to get voters to turn out.”
The meeting was delayed more than half an hour to handle the peak turnout, which Tewksbury Town Moderator Keith Rauseo said was a higher turnout than he could ever remember. In addition to the packed crowd at the high school’s gymnasium, two satellite voting sections had to be established before the deliberative session could launch.
“When we did the vote to expand the high school, we had just over 2,100,” he said. “The staff and police did a great job getting everybody in the right place to have a good night.”
Meanwhile, Eric Schippers, senior vice president of Public Affairs at Penn National Gaming, said his company’s next move was to “go back and regroup.”
“The community of Tewksbury voted loud and clear. We respect them,” he said. “We respect the chance they gave us. Many of them for and against allowed us into their homes to allow us to educate them on our experience in other communities.”
With Tewksbury’s vote, the number of slots-only casino proposals throughout the state was cut from four to three. Schippers said the vote was a “disappointing loss” for the company, but they too will be looking ahead.
“Our involvement in Tewksbury ended tonight in a very loud and clear decision by the voters,” he said. “We respect that and we’ll be looking for other opportunities for our company.”