Casino Proposals Draw Praise, Concerns At Springfield Forum

Dec 12, 2012

Top executives from casino industry heavyweights MGM Resorts International and Penn National Gaming pitched their competing  plans for Springfield Massachusetts last night.  The forum drew hundreds of people with questions about the impact of a casino development in downtown Springfield.  WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.

Both companies vowed to do much more than build a casino in a box in downtown Springfield. Launching a gaming industry in the state’s third largest city ,the rival executives said, will mean  economic revitalization, and  thousands of jobs, filled by a largely local and diverse workforce.

Penn National vice president Eric Schippers said his company’s proposal for an $807 million dollar hotel and casino in Springfield’s North End will have an economic ripple effect throughout the city.

MGM CEO Jim Murren said his company’s $800 million dollar project in Springfield’s South End  will be an entertainment hub that will draw tens of thousands of tourists to Springfield .

MGM, which unveiled their proposal for a resort casino in Springfield back in August presented the  more detailed plans for their project at Tuesday night’s forum.  It included an animated walkthrough of the casino and hotel.     There was a 3D model of MGM’s project set up in the lobby of the City Stage Theater, where the forum was held.

Penn’s president Timothy Wilmott conceded his company is behind in Springfield when it comes to glitzy marketing.

Penn is planning to unveil more details about its project at what it called “  a red carpet gala” on December 20th. The company announced last night that it now has control of a 13 acre site thanks to recently concluded agreements with the current property owners.  It also revealed that Massachusetts football legend Doug Flutie will open his first sports bar in Penn’s Springfield casino.

People questioned the impacts the projects would have  on traffic.  Both developments are near Interstate 91. Jay Snowdon, a senior vice president with Penn, who is in charge of their Springfield project said a study found just 5 percent of casino traffic would be on local streets.

Crime was another concern raised.  MGM president Bill Hornbuckle said public safety is a top priority.

Carol Costa, who lives in downtown Springfield, said she had been opposed to a casino, but has changed her mind.            

Rosemary Tracy Woods is worried about how a big casino would impact the two art galleries she owns downtown.

MGM and Penn waged a nasty battle on opposite sides of a casino ballot question in Maryland earlier this year.  But Wilmott, of Penn and MGM’s Murren said the companies have promised not to bad mouth each other in their high stakes competition in Springfield.

Last night’s forum was part of Springfield’s casino selection competition.  A third company, Amerstar, dropped out last month.  MGM and Penn have until Friday to pay a $250,000 fee to the city and have until January 3rd to file their final detailed project plans with city officials.

The city hopes to hold a voter referendum in June on a casino development.  A binding local vote is required before a casino developer can  seek a license from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.  State law permits just one license in western Massachusetts.  Mohegan Sun is expected to seek a license for a casino in Palmer.  There may also be a casino project in Holyoke.