MGM, preparing to open, has feisty words for CT rivals

Baker hails new casino as ‘incredibly Springfield-centric’

LET THE CASINO wars begin.

The MGM Springfield casino is about to open, and at a press conference on Thursday several officials made clear that the battle is on with Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.

Jim Murren, the CEO of MGM, who went to college in Hartford in the early 1980s, said he used to travel to Springfield back then to see concerts featuring the Grateful Dead, the Doors, and the Kinks.

“We’re bringing all of that entertainment back. All of it’s coming back,” he said. “It’s not going to be messing around at Mohegan Sun. We’re a bit bigger than them. We’re bringing entertainment back here, starting with a guy you might have heard of, Stevie Wonder.”

Michael Mathis, the president of MGM Springfield, also alluded to the company’s Connecticut rivals during remarks in which he asked those who helped get the casino up and running to stand and be recognized. As he finished applauding the casino’s supporters, he noticed some people were still sitting in the audience.

“If you’re still sitting, it’s a good chance you’re a plant for Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun,” he quipped.

The opening of MGM Springfield on Friday is expected to shake things up in the New England casino industry. Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun are already struggling with declining revenues, and now they are going to face serious competition from the north. The two Connecticut companies are rushing to open a fairly bland-looking, one-story casino in the Hartford area to blunt the impact of MGM. It is scheduled to open in the spring of 2020.

A rendering of the East Windsor casino proposed by Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.

At the MGM press conference, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno talked about the 3,300 jobs at the casino and the economic impact it will have on his city. He likened the casino to a Phoenix, rising from the ashes and rubble left behind by the tornado that ripped through the city in 2011.

“Come onto Springfield, the red carpet is rolled out. You’re going to have a clean, a safe, and a fun time,” Sarno said.

US Rep. Richard Neal hailed the casino’s $90 million-a-year payroll that he said will spur economic growth in “a city that has plenty of challenges.” But his warmest words were for the design of the casino, which he described as satisfying his desire for a “tasteful development.”

Gov. Charlie Baker also praised MGM’s willingness to buck the casino industry’s tendency to wall gaming floors off from the outside world. He said MGM has built a casino with a bowling alley, a movie theater, and an openness to what’s outside the building. “The idea was to revitalize an urban community and to build a multidimensional entertainment and recreation facility that would fit,” he said, meaning fit within Springfield.

“It was unlike anything I’ve heard anyone in this business talk about before,” Baker said. “It’s creative. It’s incredibly Springfield-centric.”

The governor recalled walking the casino site in 2014 and then meeting with the editorial board of the Springfield Republican. Asked what he would do if an upcoming statewide referendum on casino gambling derailed plans for the facility in Springfield, Baker said he would push for legislation to allow just the MGM project to proceed if he was elected.

“No one on my team had any idea I was going to say that. It was a little burst of flame,” he said. “But I said that because I’d seen with my own eyes and talked to the folks involved and I could see the possibility, the big possibility…that this represented.”

Baker, who is now up for reelection, said he is eager to try out the casino. “I can’t wait to have a chance to come and play here, but the LG and I are going to be busy for awhile,” he said.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Stephen Crosby, the chair of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, said the opening of the MGM casino is a huge step in the state’s gambling evolution. The state’s gaming law was approved in 2011, the slots parlor in Plainville opened in June 2015, MGM opens on Friday, and next year the Wynn Resorts Encore hotel and casino will open in Everett.

“We had no freaking idea how to start a casino gambling industry,” Crosby confided to the audience. “After seven long years, I say it’s about time to party.”