SPRINGFIELD — Mayor Domenic J. Sarno today announced he has chosen the $800 million casino plan offered by MGM Resorts International as the city’s candidate for the sole casino license to be awarded in Western Massachusetts.
“This is our moment. This is our time. We need to rally behind this game-changing development,’’ Sarno said. “MGM has assured me they will make this the marquee project in an urban setting in America.”
In backing MGM, Sarno rejected the competing bid made by Penn National Gaming.
“It was a difficult choice,’’ Sarno said. “We had an unique opportunity to apply leverage and pressure to strike the best deal for Springfield.”
MGM, in a statement posted on its Facebook page, expressed gratitude to Sarno.
“We are very grateful and excited that Mayor Domenic J. Sarno and his Advisory Committee have chosen MGM Springfield to move ahead in the process to bring a world-class entertainment, retail and dining resort to Downtown Springfield,’’ the company said.
In a statement, Penn National expressed disappointment at Sarno’s decision, but applauded what the company called a “fair and open process.’’
“We are obviously disappointed by the Mayor’s announcement this morning given the time, energy and resources we have invested in our proposed Hollywood Casino, which we felt was the best plan for Springfield given its optimal location and significant ripple effect,’’ Eric Schippers, a Penn National Gaming spokesman said.
“However, we respect the Mayor’s decision and want to thank him and his entire team for what has been a fair and open process,’’ Schipper said.
Even with its victory today, the MGM project still must win the endorsement of the voters in a referendum before the company can complete its application for a casino license. A vote is expected to be held in mid-July.
Also, the Massachusetts Gambling Commission has not yet completed its background checks on the applicants, and MGM must still pass the check.
If those hurdles are cleared, Sarno’s decisions means that MGM will face off against the casino plan for Palmer proposed by the Mohegan Sun and against the plan by Hard Rock International to build a casino in neighboring West Springfield.
The commission will choose the sole winner of the Western Massachusetts license from those contenders.
MGM has been aggressively courting political and public support for its plans, the Globe has reported.
The company used donations to community groups and a media campaign designed by high-octane political advisers and operatives, including President Obama’s media consultant, to push their proposal.
Gambling companies have coveted Springfield since the state legalized casinos in late 2011, and the city has courted as many as four suitors. Ameristar bought land in the eastern part of the city for a gambling resort, but later abandoned the project when it seemed clear Sarno preferred a downtown location. Hard Rock also pursued a site in downtown Springfield, before making a proposal on the other side of the Connecticut River, at the Big E fairgrounds in West Springfield.
The battle between MGM and Penn has been ongoing for months.
Both companies have pushed their proposals with television, radio, and newspaper ads. The city forbids the companies from criticizing each other.
We put forth the very best package we felt we could justify from a shareholder return perspective,’’ Schipper of Penn National said in the statement. “We congratulate MGM on the decision today and wish them and the City of Springfield the best.’’Mark Arsenault can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bostonglobemark