The chairman of the Massachusetts gaming commission will ask the City of Springfield to temporarily suspend its search for a casino operator, after questions were raised about a potential conflict of interest with the consultants the city hired. 
Commission Chairman Steve Crosby said Springfield Mayor Dominic Sarno needed to delay the city’s casino process for now and come to Boston the week of Sept. 10 for a meeting with the state gaming commission.

“We came to a conclusion that the best thing to do is take a deep breath and talk about it,” Crosby said.

In July, Springfield hired a casino consulting legal firm to help it evaluate casino proposals. But the consultant has ties to two of the four companies vying for the right to build a casino in the city. Now the two other operators are accusing the city of a conflict of interest.

On Aug. 31, the mayor wrote to the state gaming commission asking for guidance on the issue.

The state’s gambling law gives broad power to mayors and other local officials to negotiate with casino companies and choose bidders. Crosby said that he respected the control of mayors but that lingering questions about the integrity of the process at the local level could shake the confidence of all Massachusetts residents in the casino selection process.

“The legislation is very clear in giving authority to the cities and towns, and in the case of the cities, largely to the mayors to design a process they want to do. And that local control is important. On the other hand we are in effect instructed to be the keepers of the integrity of the process. And if one piece goes wrong it’s going to infect the whole process,” he said.

It will be up to the state ethics commission to decide if there’s a legal problem.