Supporters and opponents of MGM’s $800 million casino project in Springfield had a final chance last night to sound-off in front of Massachusetts gaming industry regulators. The state gaming commission held a final public hearing in Springfield as it prepares to award the lone casino license in western Massachusetts where MGM Springfield is the only applicant.
An estimated 350 people were there at the start of the hearing, which began with a nearly two-hour long presentation by MGM officials about the details of the casino project and the Las Vegas entertainment giant’s business plan to turn a downtrodden Springfield into a must-visit hotspot.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno led a parade of local officials and community leaders that included the heads of the tourism bureau and employment board in urging the regulators to award the license to MGM without delay.
" We're ready to go, we're ready to put those shovels in the ground."
Sarno highlighted the development agreement he signed last year with MGM that guarantees the city annual payments of $25 million with set-asides for public safety improvements and community programs.
Mary Kay Wydra, president of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau announced a marketing partnership with MGM Springfield that includes cross-promotion of local attractions.
" I truly believe the MGM Springfield proposal is the absolute best opportunity for the Pioneer Valley."
The casino that is to be built on a 15 acre site in downtown Springfield’s South End – an area that was hit by the 2011 tornado – will produce 2,000 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent jobs. David Cruise, the president of the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County said there would be a multiplier effect on job creation because MGM will buy $50 million in goods and services from local suppliers.
" The Regional Employment Board of Hampden County believes the awarding of a license to MGM to operate the Springfield casino is a sound economic development and business decision."
As in previous public presentations, MGM Springfield President Mike Mathis downplayed the gaming part of the project. He said it would bring the first four-star hotel to Springfield along with upscale restaurants and retail shops and top-flight entertainment. But he stressed to the gaming industry regulators that the casino would keep in Massachusetts a sizeable share of the estimated $1 billion Bay State residents now spend annually at the Indian casinos in Connecticut and draw gamblers from throughout the northeast to western Massachusetts.
"People don't want to come to just a casino in a box. People want to have a mixed use retail hospitality experience."
Questioned by commissioners, Mathis said he was not concerned about potential casino competition from upstate New York.
" Upstate is approximately 5 percent of our business. It won't swing it dramatically and if we are awarded a license at this time it will help push the competition further away."
Al Cabot of West Springfield and other vocal gambling opponents at Tuesday’s hearing scoffed at the idea that a casino would make Springfield a destination for tourists and conventions and warned it would result in more gambling addiction.
" Horton hearing a Who is not the reason people are going to come here to gamble. People come to gamble because they gamble."
Carol DeCarlo, who lives in the South End and runs a small business there, said she would welcome the MGM casino as a neighbor.
"Springfield voted yes for MGM Springfield. Respect our decision. Respect our right to control our own destiny. Give us the freedom to control our own destiny."
Rhonda Latney of Springfield said the casino will not help to improve the lives of the poor in Springfield.
" These are definitive reasons to say predatory gaming will not take place here in Springfield."
Gaming commission chairman Stephen Crosby in an interview said MGM has a strong proposal. He said the commission is on course to award a license by the end of May. Commissioners continue to read through MGM’s formal license application, which runs more than 10,000 pages. He said the commission had also received hundreds of letters and emails that will factor into the deliberations.