MGM Resorts International has cleared a major hurdle in the competition to build a casino in western Massachusetts. Voters in Springfield, in a citywide referendum Tuesday, endorsed the company’s plan for an $800 million project in the south end of the city’s downtown.
MGM officials declared a landslide victory after unofficial results from the Springfield election department showed the citywide referendum passed by 58 percent “yes” to 42 percent “no.” Just under twenty-five percent of the city’s registered voters went to the polls.
MGM CEO James Murran addressed about 200 people who had been invited to what turned into a victory party at the Museum of Springfield History. He said the vote means the Nevada-based company and the largest city in western Massachusetts are now firmly joined in the bid to convince state gaming regulators to award MGM the lone casino license available in the region.
Springfield voters on Tuesday legally ratified a development agreement negotiated by MGM and the administration of Mayor Domenic Sarno. It calls for MGM to build a casino, hotel, and entertainment complex, along with some housing. The project aims to generate 2,000 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent jobs. It also commits MGM to annual payments to the city totaling $24 million and to fund improvements to public safety, parks, and other infrastructure.
MGM is the first company to secure voter approval for a casino project in western Massachusetts. It is a step required by state law before an application can be filed for a site-specific casino license.
Hard Rock International, which announced a development deal last week with the mayor of West Springfield, hopes to hold a voter referendum on September 10th. A host community agreement between Mohegan Sun and Palmer has not been finalized and so no date for a vote has been announced.
MGM has been aggressively marketing its project to Springfield residents since it was unveiled nearly a year ago. The company invested $1 million alone just in the six-week referendum campaign which included an advertizing blitz and a sophisticated get-out-the-vote effort.
The goal on Tuesday was to win by a large margin to show the Massachusetts Gaming Commission that Springfield wants the casino. MGM Springfield President Bill Hornbuckle said the goal was achieved.
A coalition of casino opponents vows not to quit. Rev. Peter Swarr, Rector of St Mark’s Episcopal Church in East Longmeadow ,said Tuesday’s vote did not supply MGM with a mandate.
Mayor Sarno on Tuesday thanked voters who supported the casino and said he believed people who voted “no” did not have a clear understanding of the project.
Sarno was the public face of the MGM casino referendum campaign. He was featured prominently in TV and radio ads urging a “ yes” vote. He also did some door- to- door canvassing.
The next step for MGM is to file more detailed information about its project with the state gaming commission. The company must also negotiate agreements with surrounding communities to mitigate the impact the casino will have on such things as traffic. Those agreements are not subject to voter approval, and if negotiations fail, there is an arbitration process.
Springfield and MGM officials said they expect a final decision from the gaming commission on the western Massachusetts casino license to come in nine months.