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Officials Downplay Threat Of Competition To MGM Springfield Casino

The first casino under construction in western Massachusetts remains on pace to open as scheduled before the end of next year.  But, by then, the MGM Springfield casino may be facing a different competitive landscape.

An alliance of Connecticut Indian tribes signed an agreement Thursday to build a new casino in the town of East Windsor, while Massachusetts gaming industry regulators were meeting just 13 miles away in Springfield, and were told “significant progress” is being made on the construction of MGM’s $950 million gambling resort.

 Speaking at the meeting of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, MGM Springfield President Mike Mathis said it was premature to be concerned about competition from either the recently-opened Rivers Casino in Schenectady, or the proposed casino just over the Massachusetts-Connecticut state line.

" We don't subscribe to the saturation argument that there are limited dollars for resort gaming. There may be limited dollars for a certain type of gaming, but not for the product we put out," he said.

Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby said he was confident the MGM Springfield casino would be successful no matter what competition might come along.

" If circumstances change and the competitive environment changes significantly we will have to take a look at that. But, at this stage of the game, we are proceeding on pace and think ( MGM) is pretty well situated to deal with whatever they have to deal with," said Crosby.

The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes struck an $8.5 million deal with officials in East Windsor to host a $200-$300 million casino.  But, it still needs the approval of the state legislature, and MGM has sued to block it.

" It is a long way from done," said Crosby, noting there was once  talk  of a casino being built in southern New  Hampshire but that never materialized.

In 2011, after decades of debate, Massachusetts legalized casinos in an effort to recapture much of the estimated $1 billion that Bay State residents were spending annually at the two Indian casinos in eastern Connecticut.  Now, the tribes say they must preemptively act and build a third casino to save thousands of jobs and millions in state tax revenue that will be lost when the MGM casino opens.

Asked Thursday about his reaction to the news from Connecticut, Mathis insisted his only worry is getting the Springfield casino built, staffed, and opened by the September 2018 target date.

" Will it impact some of our visitation if it ( the East Windsor casino) every comes to fruition? Perhaps. But we are putting up a really unique product here as an urban resort," said Mathis.

As part of a quarterly report to the commission, Mathis said MGM will take over the management of the state-owned MassMutual Center in downtown Springfield on July 1st.  The civic center is located just a block from where the casino is being built and will serve as the resort’s convention space and entertainment venue.

Mathis also highlighted MGM’s plan to introduce a responsible gambling program at all its North American casinos. MGM is adopting the British Columbia Lottery Corporation’s GameSense program, which encourages casino patrons to set both time and monetary limits on their gambling.

Massachusetts Gaming Commissioner Enrique Zuniga praised the announcement.

" GameSense is in my opinion a great program and this is fantastic news," he said.

The state’s gaming law requires the casino operators to provide on-site help for problem gamblers.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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