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MGM, Springfield Get State’s First Casino License

As expected, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission today agreed to award the state’s first full casino license to MGM Resorts, which intends to build a gaming, shopping, and entertainment resort in Springfield.

“Intends” is a key word there, as the prospect of whether or not the state will ever host casinos remains up in the air. By July 9, the Supreme Judicial Court will decide whether to allow a ballot question that would repeal the 2011 legislation that allowed for the establishment of casinos in the state. Recent polling has indicated that a referendum initiative could have a real chance of gaining voter approval.

With that in mind, the commission did not technically award the license. Rather, it signed an agreement saying it would do so, depending on how that ballot effort sorts itself out. This has effectively allowed MGM to defer the $85 million licensing fee that would have been due within 30 days of the license’s awarding. If the referendum question is struck down by the court, MGM will pay next month. If it goes to the ballot, MGM will be allowed to wait out the vote.

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The commission voted unanimously in favor to the agreement after reviewing the proposal over the past several days. The final vote was slightly delayed this morning as Gaming Commission chairman Stephen Crosby was late due to car trouble. (You might call that fitting, considering how messy the licensing process has become in other parts of the state.) Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and MGM CEO James Murren spoke prior to the vote. MGM will pay the city $25 million per year as part of the host community agreement reached between the city and the company.

The Springfield proposal was the only casino vying for the Western Massachusetts license, after other proposals in the area failed to gain the support of local voters and politicians. A decision on whether to award the license for Greater Boston to either Everett or Revere is expected later this summer. The process of awarding a license for Southeastern Massachusetts remains behind Greater Boston and Western Massachusetts, and may soon be delayed further. The Penn National Gaming slots parlor, the license for which was awarded earlier this year, is slated to open in Plainville in 2015.

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