MGM Springfield Opens First Massachusetts Casino
The $960 million MGM Springfield opened in the Bay State’s third largest city on August 24. It was the first true casino to open since the legislature passed the Expanded Gaming Act of 2011.
It has 2,550 slot machines, 120 gaming tables and 23 poker tables. The gaming floor sits amidst restaurants, bars, retail shopping, a ten-lane bowling alley, eight screen movie theater, event center and 250-room hotel, all on a 14.5 acre footprint.
The final acts before opening played out, with Commissioner Bruce Stebbins, of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission reviewing the site before granting a certificate of operations.
The day before the opening MGM held a press conference attended by various VIPs who commented on the opening.
MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren declared that his company was “investing in the revival of a great American city. We didn’t just build a beautiful building,” he said. “For you in labor, you were cementing the spirit of Springfield … you’re building the future of Springfield.”
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito and U.S. Rep. Richard Neal attended the presser after touring the casino.
Baker called the opening “a big statement about the people of Springfield and the folks who never quit.”
The governor said he had “no doubt there will be many big days associated with the impact this enterprise and this project is going to have on the community and this region,” and added, “This is a big day.”
Baker said of the casino: “It’s creative, it’s incredibly Springfield-centric,” he said. “There are so many elements of this place that are subtle but speak loudly about the commitment that everybody made to honor the history and all that makes this part of Massachusetts special.”
Then on Friday morning came a grand parade of thousands of employees, state and city VIPs all led by the Budweiser Clydesdales.
MGM expects to attract up to six million visitors a year, many of which will be repeat visitors.
“We’ve got a really robust database with hundreds of thousands of customers that are loyal to us in Vegas and other markets, and we believed if we put a flagship here in western New England, we would be able to generate visitation from those existing customers as well as find new customers,” declared Michael Mathis, president of MGM Springfield.
It is appropriate that a sculpture of a tornado will be one of the first things visitors to the just opened MGM Springfield will see. It was the freak tornado of 2011 that provided the catalyst that brought MGM to Springfield to begin with.
The EF-3 tornado ripped through the city’s South End like a scythe. When Murren saw the damage several weeks later, the germ of the idea of locating a casino at that area to help begin the rebuilding of Springfield began to grow. He had been thinking about building a casino in Boston. He dropped that idea. He told the Worcester Telegram: “I admit, I lost all interest in Boston at that point. And I thought I better see whether I can help this city.”
The tornado sculpture, located in the lobby of the casino hotel, wraps around the interior of the entrance. Artist Mia Pearlman’s work: “The Flying Tidings Whirled” celebrates the resilience of the people of the city and its ability to bounce back. The title comes from a poem by Emily Dickinson, a native of the region, the “Belle of Amherst.” Pearlman intended to highlight the people’s triumph after the storm, and to suggest “the energy and the drama” of the storm.
One of MGM’s design goals was to employ local culture, history and personages to celebrate the Pioneer Valley (the larger geographical area that includes Springfield) within all of the casino facilities.
The décor of the casino resort has been described by the Boston Globe’s Mark Arsenault as “offbeat” and “It looks like no casino you’ve ever seen, as un-Vegas as Springfield itself. And that is exactly the idea.” It recognizes the city and the area’s history. Much of it blends into the existing look of the South End, which involves employing existing facades with new insides. It is not trying to stand out from the cityscape, but to meld into it.
Instead of one overarching entrance, it has a dozen that all lead towards the center, where the gaming floor is located. The casino has dozens of examples of antique furniture and has a large 19th century chandelier hanging over one elevator vestibule.
The lobby has, of all things anachronistic: walls of books, including some written by the many authors who called Western Massachusetts home.
The hotel takes up five floors over the casino. Each room is unique. As MGM describes it, rooms are “inspired by the historic significance, iconic architecture and literary legacy of its urban surroundings.”
For example, one of the priciest rooms is devoted to a celebration of the author Dr. Seuss, and includes a chandelier made up of hats. Large antique Merriam-Webster dictionaries (published in Springfield, of course) can be found on stands.
MGM Springfield has promised to create more than 3,000 jobs; 35 percent will go to Springfield and Western Massachusetts residents. It also committed to a diverse workforce and has been praised by local officials for largely achieving that goal.
The MGM Springfield is a culmination of a long effort to bring casino gaming to the Bay State. In 2011 lawmakers approved of and Governor Deval Patrick signed a measure that authorized one slots parlor and three Las Vegas style casinos in different geographic zones. The slots parlor, Plainridge Park, has been operating for more than two years. The Springfield casino is the first to truly put the 2011 legislation into action.
It was also the first to receive a license for an integrated resort. It was given that license by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, the five-person panel created by the legislation. The MGC has overseen the selection process that approved of the Springfield casino, as well as the pending $2.4 billion Encore Boston Harbor, set to open next year.
Unlike the mayors of some Bay State cities, who held up their hands against a casino in their towns, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno not only welcomed the idea with open arms, he set up a process that required various developers to vie for his support, which would then be forwarded to the MGC. MGM won, and the also ran, Penn National Gaming, went on to eventually get the license to operate Plainridge Park.
When MGM was given the license, in 2014, it was for a $800 million project. Later the price tag grew to $960 million. MGM was the first gaming developer to present a detailed proposal for a casino in the state.
After getting the license, MGM broke ground in March 2015. Almost immediately MGM was forced to retrench somewhat and present a modified version that reduced the hotel from a 25-story tower to a six story building.
The casino was originally supposed to open in 2017, but improvements to the road network necessary to serve the project, including large-scale upgrades to Interstate 91 delayed that by about a year.
Many local officials see the opening of the casino as the beginning of a renaissance of redevelopment for what has been a city with a depressed economy.
Kevin Kennedy, the city’s chief development officer, who has worked with MGM officials from the beginning, told the Boston Globe, “It’s going to bring very large numbers of people on a daily basis and that’s going to contribute to the overall atmosphere. The ingredients are there for a long-term economic revival.”
Mayor Sarno told 22News that MGM’s efforts are part of an overall $3.7 billion redevelopment of the downtown. “About $13 million dollars, annually, will be invested,” he said. “This is combination of city money, MGM money and state money in working in public safety.” In addition, the developer will pay the city $25 million annually while payroll totaling about $100 million will return to the community.
The MGC has estimated that the MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor will each pay the state as much as $100 million annually, with about $300 million coming in annually once all authorized casinos are in operation.
Fine dining will definitely be one of the MGM Springfield’s attractions. Eateries such as Chef Michael Mina’s Italian eatery, Cal Mare; or the Chandler Steak House brought to fruition by executive Chef Meghan Gill. There is also the South End Market and the TAP Sports Bar. The Commonwealth Bar & Lounge, which offers a drink called the “Indian Sidecar” to celebrate the fact, you guessed it, that the Indian Motorcycle originated in Springfield. The drink is pricey: $25,000, but you get a bottle of 1901 cognac and an actual motorcycle.
To further enhance your Indian Motorcycle experience you can visit the only shop devoted to Indian Motorcycle apparel.
That will take the visitor to the outdoor plaza, where live events will be staged and where the Farmers Market will operate in good weather and an ice rink will freeze over during winter.
The MGM Springfield will offer a Voluntary Self-Exclusion Program on the very first day, which is required under the gaming law in the state. The program allows person to exclude themselves from the gaming floor for any amount of time from six months to forever. Someone who does so and is then recognized will be escorted off premises and their wagered money forfeited.
Now that the commission’s licensing role is over at Springfield, its regulatory role will begin.
The commission will have a permanent office in Springfield. Crosby told the Lowell Sun: “We have, I think, 19 or 20 formal law enforcement officers, a unit made up of both State Police and Springfield officers who are a part of our Investigations and Enforcement Bureau and under our management authority on-site.”
The chairman added, “We also have a whole host of gaming agents, I think around the same number 20 or so, who are there to keep an eye on the operations of the machines and the table games and so forth.”
Effect on the Lottery
The opening of the MGM Springfield is not expected to cut into the profits of the $5 billion Massachusetts Lottery, according to State Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg.
That’s partially because of a provision in the 2011 that requires casinos to provide spaces for lottery kiosks.
The lottery disaster that was predicted when the Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville opened did not materialize, which apparently changed Goldberg’s mind. Last week she told the Boston Herald that the opening of the MGM Springfield, will not harm the lottery in any way,” Goldberg told the Herald. “I’m cautiously optimistic. But I never count any money until it’s in.”
The slots parlor put $3.6 million into the lottery’s coffers last year. Lottery sales increased 25 percent in Plainville the first year after the casino opened in 2015.
That doesn’t guarantee the same result for the MGM Springfield. Boston College gaming expert Richard McCowan told the Herald that’s because the demographics of the two cities are different.
“I would probably say the typical person who’s going to go to MGM, at least at the beginning, is going to be a little more well off than Plainridge,” he said.
The MGM will have six lottery kiosks as well as a gift shop where tickets will be on sale.
Goldberg has been preaching that the lottery needs to modernize and appeal to a younger generation through online and mobile platform sales. She urged the legislature to authorize that last year, but the bill she filed did not pass.
“I believe that is something we must do to stay with the 21st century,” she said. “We will need to modernize the Lottery to stay in step.”
Legislators are more likely to take up sports betting in January than to modernize the lottery. Governor Baker has been meeting with representatives of the major sports leagues to get their point of view on the issue.
Unlike other gaming, the Lottery funnels money directly to towns and cities. Mayor Mark Hawke of Gardner, president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association reiterates the towns’ dependence on the money. “We rely greatly on this revenue,” he said. “We have very few ways to raise money, it’s the real estate tax and local aid,” he said. “Lottery aid is key.”