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Officials ask where are the promised jobs, amenities at MGM Springfield casino?

The MGM lion at the entrance to the Springfield casino parking garage
Paul Tuthill
The MGM lion stands at the entrance to the public garage for the Springfield casino.

The downtown resort casino has not yet fully reopened from the 2020 pandemic shutdown

Some officials in Springfield, Massachusetts are questioning if the MGM casino is failing to keep the lofty promises made when it secured a gambling license.

Restaurants open only on weekends, retailers that appear to have permanently closed, a prominent building on the casino campus still surrounded by scaffolding and concrete barriers, and a workforce that is at roughly half the pre-pandemic headcount. These are the critiques voiced this week by some local officials.

“There are some promises that were made that I think we could do a better job of keeping the promise,” said Democratic State Rep. Bud Williams of Springfield.

He said in order to win local approvals and obtain a state license, MGM hyped the casino as an economic engine that would spread the wealth downtown and generate great new employment opportunities.

“People specifically voted for stuff and that is my concern that those things the voters in the city voted on are not being met,” Williams said.

Today, there are empty storefronts across the street from the casino. MGM met its goal of 3,000 employees for only a brief time when it first opened in August 2018. In its last quarterly report to state gaming regulators, MGM said it had approximately 1,300 employees. Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown in March 2020, there were about 2,500 people working at the resort casino that includes a 250-room hotel.

In a statement, Mayor Domenic Sarno said he too has had some concerns. He said he has spoken with MGM Resorts International President and CEO Bill Hornbuckle and will meet with him in Springfield in January and seek to “confirm MGM’s commitment to the city” and that it will honor the obligations spelled out in the Host Community Agreement.

Springfield City Councilor Mike Fenton, chair of the Council’s Casino Oversight Committee, said MGM should be cut some slack because travel and the hospitality and leisure sectors of the economy have not recovered fully from the pandemic. But he said he is hopeful MGM will pick up the pace of returning to “business as usual.”

“It is true that a variety of the amenities that were contemplated in the HCA (Host Community Agreement) and the referendum are not currently being realized to their full potential,” Fenton said in an interview with WAMC. He said he was hopeful that working with MGM officials the shortcomings can be addressed “in the waning days of 2022 and the early months of 2023.”

A spokesperson for MGM Springfield did not address the specific concerns but instead, in a statement, highlighted the tax revenue that has been paid to the city. “We look forward to working with the city of Springfield as it reinvests this revenue in downtown Springfield, and to continue to work towards our shared goal of revitalizing this historic community and reenergizing downtown Springfield,” the statement read.

MGM has lived up to all of its financial obligations to the city making payments that annually total north of $17 million, confirmed Fenton.

“We have no issues with MGM in terms of payments,” he said. “The issue is we need to work with them on reopening the property to realize its full potential in terms of the hotel, restaurants, and other amenities.”

The company has also satisfied the requirement in the host community agreement to develop new housing downtown. MGM invested millions into the restoration and redevelopment of the historic former Court Square Hotel into market-rate rental apartments.

Earlier this year, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission complained that MGM, and the Encore Boston Harbor casino, had not reopened enough table games in their respective casinos. Chairperson Cathy Judd-Stein warned of too much reliance on slot machines.

“The less table games they have the more they look like a slots parlor,” she said. “We want the full complement of games because that is not only what our patrons want but because of the jobs attached.”

On Thursday, the commission reported MGM Springfield’s gross gaming revenue in November came to just over $22 million with $17 million of that coming from the slots.

Additionally, MGM Springfield was hit with a discrimination lawsuit this week.

Chelan Brown, the former diversity manager at MGM Springfield, claims she was demoted and later fired in 2019 after she complained to upper management that reports on diversity hiring targets sent to the gaming commission were not accurate.

Brown is the sister-in-law of Springfield City Councilor Malo Brown, who works as a legislative aide to State Rep. Williams.

A spokesperson for MGM Resorts International said an internal investigation concluded that Brown’s allegations were unfounded. The statement went on to say the company “will defend ourselves vigorously (in court) if necessary.”

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.