The mayor of Springfield Massachusetts and a top official with MGM Resorts International signed a casino development deal on Wednesday. The signing ceremony marks the start of a campaign to convince the city’s voters to ratify the agreement.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno declared it a bellweather moment shortly before he signed the agreement with MGM president Bill Hornbuckle. Springfield which has suffered through natural disasters, plunging property values and stagnant employment will be guaranteed payments of more than $25 million a year and thousands of jobs if MGM builds the casino.
The host community agreement with MGM was signed in front of more than 200 civic, business and government leaders in a ceremony at the Springfield convention center. Hornbuckle urged the community leaders to support the project and to lobby city councilors and city voters.
Hornbuckle said MGM is looking to hold the referendum in mid- July.
Sarno, who is a popular mayor, said he’ll use all his political influence to try to get the casino referendum approved.
Sarno announced on Tuesday that he had selected MGM to build a casino in downtown Springfield after more than two months of parallel negotiations with MGM and another casino operator, Penn National.
Under the state law that allowed casino gambling to come to Massachusetts, a voter- approved host community agreement is a prerequisite for a state gaming license. Other casino projects are proposed in Palmer and West Springfield and in the Greater Boston area. Three casino licenses can be awarded, but only one is available in western Massachusetts.
But, before there is a voter referendum the agreement must be approved by the Springfield City Council. Paula Meara, who chairs the council’s casino site selection committee, said she’s eager to look into what MGM has committed to the city.
MGM has been aggressively marketing its casino project in Springfield since it was first unveiled last summer. There are billboards, lawn signs and TV commercials. Company officials have held scores of meetings in the community. The company claims polling shows a majority of Springfield residents favor the project.
But State Representative Cheryl Coakley-Rivera cautioned the outcome of a casino vote is not certain.
Mohegan Sun officials recently announced plans to hold a vote by September on a casino project in Palmer. No timetable has been discussed publicly as yet for a referendum on Hard Rock International’s casino project in West Springfield.
The state gaming commission expects to begin awarding licenses in the first quarter of 2014.