The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has assigned the state’s first resort casino license to MGM. The entertainment industry giant got the go-ahead from the industry regulators today to build an $800 million casino in downtown Springfield, but a cloud of uncertainty still hangs over the project.
The unanimous vote by the five-member gaming commission was greeted with a standing ovation from more than 300 people who packed a ballroom inside the MassMutual Convention Center less than a block from where the casino would be built.
Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby said the commissioners were “pleased and proud” to have the state’s first casino license go to MGM. The license award came two-and-a-half years after Massachusetts legalized Las Vegas-style gambling as a way to create jobs and tax revenue.
" This project has implemented the spirit and the aspirations and the intentions of the legislature and the governor when they passed this law as well as it could possibly have been implemented."
Commissioners and MGM officials signed an agreement Friday to withhold the formal issuing of the license until the effort to repeal the state’s 2011 gaming law is settled. Without the agreement MGM would have to make $200 million in non-refundable payments on a project that might not be built.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is expected to rule by early July if a question asking voters to repeal casino gambling can appear on the November ballot.
" Everybody is anxious to get started as quickly as they possibly can. It is very important for everybody. The legislature intended this to be about jobs and revenue. But, the law has to take it's course and so we will wait patiently," said Crosby.
MGM Chairman James Murren said work would proceed on planning, designing and marketing the Springfield project, which he said the company had already put $30 million into. He said he was hopeful the repeal question would not be on the ballot, but if it is, he said he was confident voters would endorse casinos in Massachusetts.
" I think the odds are very high and not only would I bet on it, I have."
MGM emerged as the only applicant for the lone casino license in western Massachusetts, but at one time there were five competitors. Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno chose MGM over a rival project, and Springfield voters endorsed it last July by a 58-42 percent margin. Voters in West Springfield and Palmer rejected casino projects.
Murren on Friday pledged to deliver on a promise to create 3,000 permanent jobs at the casino, He said the western Massachusetts casino would successfully compete in a region that has long-established casinos in Connecticut, and new ones on the horizon in New York.
" We can out- entertain anybody in this industry, certainly anyone in Connecticut. We can out-service anybody in the gaming industry and we do in the hotly competitive markets in which we already operate"
Sarno said he was deeply appreciative of the gaming commission for authorizing what the mayor has described as the largest economic development project in Springfield’s history.
Steve Abdow, one of the leaders of the anti-casino campaign said the agreement sparing MGM from making immediate non-refundable payments for the casino license validates the legitimacy of the repeal effort.
" I am very encouraged by the potential for us to prevail in this."
A poll earlier this week by Suffolk University found voter support for casinos in Massachusetts had slipped below 50 percent.