The lengthy process to bring casino gambling to Massachusetts has entered a final phase. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission will spend the next few months carefully evaluating projects before coming to a decision on issuing licenses. Supporters of the MGM casino project in Springfield are already anticipating a groundbreaking.
MGM Resorts International is the only applicant for the lone casino license in western Massachusetts, but Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby says the five-member commission is not obligated to award the license to MGM.
" So even though they ( MGM) are the last company standing, they still got to come through us."
Crosby said MGM’s license application, which runs thousands of pages, will be evaluated to see if it conforms to the criteria for job creation, economic impact, and several other factors established by the commission and the state gaming law. The commission is planning two public hearings - one in Springfield and the other in a surrounding community.
The casino license applicants -- MGM in the western region and Mohegan Sun and Wynn Resorts, the competitors for the greater Boston area license -- made public presentations about their projects to the commission this week. MGM’s presentation of its plans for an $800 million casino in downtown Springfield was greeted by enthusiastic applause from about 35 business and community leaders who attended Thursday’s meeting in Boston.
The MGM project has had no louder cheerleader than Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno.
" I do appreciate the due diligence of the gaming commission. We are very hopeful we'll be granted a license so we can get shovels in the ground this spring."
Sarno endorsed MGM’s project over a rival proposal from Penn National Gaming last year and campaigned for Springfield voters to approve it, which they did by a 58 percent to 42 percent margin. Casino projects in West Springfield and Palmer were rejected by voters.
MGM officials say the project will lead to a revitalization of Springfield. Judy Matt, president of Spirit of Springfield, agrees.
" How do I see it? I think we are going to have many more people coming to our community, the fear factor of public safety will probably go away."
Jeff Ciuffreda, president of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, said it was exciting to hear MGM’s presentation to gaming industry regulators which included a pledge to spend $50 million annually purchasing goods and services from local companies.
" That is the real hidden benefit to the valley."
Casino opponents have not given up. Ted Steger of the group No Casino Springfield acknowledges it is a long shot, but said they will try to persuade the gaming commission not to issue a license to MGM. He believes there is a strong case against locating a casino in downtown Springfield.
" Having it located in an urban area where the poorest residents can walk to the casino is a recipe for social ills."
There is also an effort to get a question on this year’s state election ballot that would repeal the 2011 gaming law and possibly stop the casino developments just as construction is getting underway.