Process Winnows Field Of Massachusetts Casino Applicants

Dec 10, 2013

MGM Resorts International is looking to get a green light this week from Massachusetts gaming industry regulators to file a final application to build a $800 million resort casino in downtown Springfield. Investigators for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission have found no reason to disqualify the Las Vegas-based company from the casino licensing process.

An artist's rendering of MGM Resorts proposed casino development in Springfield, MA

The favorable recommendation from the Investigation and Enforcement Bureau of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, if endorsed by the full-five member commission, would leave MGM as the only applicant for the lone casino license available in western Massachusetts.  But, commission chairman Stephen Crosby said that does not mean MGM gets the license by default.

" One applicant or ten we will hold their feet to the fire to make sure we get a really good application."

Final applications for gaming licenses are due December 31st.  The commission expects to award casino licenses in April.

MGM appears to be the sole survivor in western Massachusetts of an intentionally rigorous process laid out in state law just to qualify to get in front of the gaming commission to make a pitch to build a casino.  Applicants must pass a strict background investigation—which in MGM’s case took 10 months and cost $2 million—and win the approval of voters in the host community.

" The law put in many ways to winnow people out , the big one was local control,"said Crosby.

Casino projects were rejected by voters in West Springfield and Palmer.

MGM first beat out Penn National Gaming in a competition to win the endorsement of Mayor Domenic Sarno and the Springfield City Council.  Voters in Springfield approved the project by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin in July

Springfield City Councilor Tim Rooke sees nothing now that could potentially block what would be the largest economic development project in the city’s history.

" The process has been very open. It has been very transparent."

Rhonda  Latney , who opposes a casino in Springfield ,said she was disappointed with the findings of the background investigation  that were made public Monday at a hearing in Boston .

" To find a casino suitable on these protocols is outrageous when you consider what a casino is going to do in the long run to our community."

MGM has struck a deal with Springfield to make annual payments to the city of $25 million and fund certain improvements and amenities.  MGM is continuing to negotiate with communities that border Springfield about making payments to mitigate the casino’s impacts on traffic and municipal services.

Longmeadow Town Manager Stephen Crane said he is engaged in data-driven negotiations with MGM over the potential impacts of the casino.

" We are collecting and analyzing data and trying to see how this is going to impact us."

The mayor of Northampton is planning to petition the gaming commission to be designated a surrounding community in hopes of getting economic relief  from the impacts of a Springfield casino. Mayor David Narkewicz fears a casino located just 16 miles away will harm his city’s vibrant downtown entertainment scene.

" I'm concerned about what the impacts are of this casino business model, which is trying to get people to come to it, provide entertainment, provide restaurants, provide retail, and all of it with the blessing of the state creating a monopoly for them in western Massachusetts."

Agreements between casino operators and surrounding communities do not have to be completed by the December 31st license application deadline and the agreements are not subject to local voter approval.

If agreements cannot be reached the mitigation payments would be determined by an arbitrator.