Casino supporters in Springfield, Massachusetts received an early Christmas present on Monday. A regulatory ruling paves the way for a final decision this spring on what has been billed as the biggest economic development project in the city’s history
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission, after reviewing a 10- month background investigation, cleared MGM Resorts International to be the lone applicant for a casino license in western Massachusetts. The Las Vegas-based entertainment industry giant is proposing an $800 million resort casino in downtown Springfield.
The city’s chief development officer, Kevin Kennedy, speaking with reporters shortly after the gaming commission’s written decision was disclosed late Monday, said the project is on a path for a final licensing decision in May.
" I had a brief conversation with the mayor earlier. He is very very pleased as are all of us who have worked very hard on this. We have overcome another hurdle in the process."
MGM will file a final application for a casino license by the December 31st deadline. The gaming commission will hold a series of public hearings on the project before making a final up or down decision on issuing a license. MGM must also reach agreements on mitigation payments with communities that abut Springfield or go to arbitration to determine the payments.
MGM is the only applicant remaining for the lone casino license available in western Massachusetts. Voters in both West Springfield and Palmer rejected casino projects. MGM’s project was approved by Springfield voters in a July referendum by a 58 percent to 42 percent margin.
Mayor Domenic Sarno selected MGM’s project over a rival proposal from Penn National Gaming after a months-long public review and private negotiation process leading up to the July vote on MGM’s proposal.
"Competition usually brings forth a winner and will shake out what may be negative. I think what we went through over the last 12 months MGM became an excellent candidate and all the details and what may have been hidden was brought out and we became aware of their capabilities."
Kennedy said the fact that several casino operators expressed interest in building in Springfield as far back as January 2012 confirmed the city was the best place for a casino in the region.
" We have the right profile for this and the right amount of enthusiasm for a real good economic development project. The entertainment options that are going to be available will change the landscape around here."
MGM issued a written statement quoting CEO James Murren saying the company is very proud to have received the unanimous support of the five-member gaming commission. The decision followed a recommendation from the commission’s investigators that found MGM suitable to hold a casino license in Massachusetts.
The commission held a hearing on the staff’s investigative report in Boston on December 9th where Murren and other MGM officials talked about the company’s ethics and high standards.
The commission’s written decision said MGM had satisfied concerns about its casino operations in Macau and its dealings with a former board member who was convicted in federal court on wiretapping and conspiracy charges.
Also on Monday, Mohegan Sun announced a host community agreement with the city of Revere for a new casino project in the greater Boston area. Mohegan Sun pursued that project after losing a casino referendum by 94 votes in Palmer. Voters in East Boston turned down a casino that would have straddled the Revere-Boston line.
A vote in Revere on the new project is expected in February.