The Massachusetts Gaming Commission heard today from three western Massachusetts municipalities that want to be designated as surrounding communities to a casino development. A surrounding community is entitled to negotiate with a casino operator for compensation for traffic and other impacts.
Representatives from the towns of Longmeadow and Hampden and the city of Northampton petitioned the gaming industry regulators during a meeting in Boston Tuesday to be given a seat at the table to negotiate with MGM Resorts International. The entertainment industry giant, which hopes to build an $800 million casino in downtown Springfield, urged commissioners to reject the petitions.
The Springfield suburbs of Longmeadow and Hampden both claim the casino will result in traffic congestion in their communities. Northampton, which is 18 miles from Springfield, claims it will endure economic harm from a Springfield casino.
Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz told the commissioners he was speaking for the owners of roughly 67 businesses including stores, restaurants, entertainment venues and hotels who had labored for decades to make Northampton a unique cultural and tourist destination.
" We will be impacted by this $800 million entertainment facility that will be 20 minutes from Northampton."
Northampton presented the findings of a consultant’s report that estimated a casino in Springfield could cost Northampton businesses up to $8 million in lost sales annually, eliminate up to 180 jobs and reduce city revenues by up to $273,000 a year.
MGM Springfield President Mike Mathis insisted Northampton would benefit from a Springfield casino because its residents could get work there and MGM plans to promote regional attractions outside Springfield.
" Both communities' tourism, entertainment, leisure can grow together and we believe we be a catalyst to make that happen further."
MGM has reached agreements with five communities that abut Springfield as well as the city of Holyoke to make mitigation payments in the hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. MGM rejected Longmeadow’s demand for $1 million upfront and $500,000 annually. Brandon Moss, an attorney for the town, said Longmeadow needs to make improvements to several traffic intersections that will be jammed as a result of casino bound traffic on Interstate 91.
" What Longmeadow seeks here is reasonable."
MGM’s traffic studies find the casino would have a minimal impact on Longmeadow, according to MGM attorney Seth Stratton.
" Yes,traffic will go through Longmeadow, but it is a small percentage. It is not significant and it is not adverse."
MGM drew the line at abutters to Springfield – with the exception of Holyoke – when it came to negotiating mitigation payments, so there was no discussion with the town of Hampden.
The chairman of Hampden’s board of selectmen, John Flynn, told the commission traffic to the Springfield casino from Connecticut could travel through Hampden – a town of 5,200 people that does not have a single traffic light.
" We are looking for the opportunity to explore this and present the fact that we feel there is some mitigation needed for the impact on the community of Hampden."
The gaming commission will decide next month on the surrounding community petitions. Communities that are not designated can still apply for compensation from a mitigation fund that each casino operator will be required to pay into and is expected to total between $15 million and $20 million.