City councilors in Springfield Massachusetts appear ready to act quickly on the proposed casino development agreement with MGM Resorts International. The casino operator wants the citywide voter referendum to take place in mid-July. Casino opponents have little time to mount an effective campaign.
The city of Springfield has posted on its website the full text of the host community agreement between the city and MGM Resorts International which is proposing to build an $800 million resort casino in the south end of the city’s downtown. The agreement, signed by Mayor Domenic Sarno and MGM Springfield President Bill Hornbuckle earlier this week,will be formally transmitted to the Springfield City Council on Monday.
City Council President James Ferrera said he will schedule special meetings if necessary next week for the council to ask questions about the agreement and vote on it.
Longtime city councilor Kateri Walsh said there is a lot of excitement in Springfield about MGM’s proposal and the council does not want to dampen the enthusiasm by dragging its feet. She said the consensus is the mayor negotiated a good deal for the city.
Michael Kogut, who heads Springfield Citizens Against Casino Gaming ,is trying to convince city councilors to wait until November to hold the voter referendum.
The casino opponents don’t have a website, or lawn signs or bumper stickers. MGM has spent millions already to promote its Springfield casino project. Part of this was to win community support in the competition with Penn National Gaming, which had proposed a resort casino in another part of downtown.
Hornbuckle said MGM is counting on the voter referendum to demonstrate to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission that there is strong community support for the project.
MGM is expecting to compete for the lone casino license available in western Massachusetts with projects in Palmer and in West Springfield. A voter-approved host community agreement is a prerequisite for a casino operator to seek a license from the gaming commission.
MGM’s Springfield project has been well received by key members of the city’s business, cultural and minority communities. Jose Claudio, of the New North Citizens Council, had supported Penn’s rival casino project, but is now on board with MGM
Springfield business owner Richard Rousseau said the casino project marks a real turning point in the city’s history.
The host community agreement commits MGM to specific building designs, employment goals, and annual payments to the city that total more than $25 million. There are other “ perks” such as a downtown skating rink, improvements to parks and golf courses, and 50 units of downtown housing. MGM will also book a dozen events a year in existing entertainment venues in Springfield for the next eight years.