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3,000 jobs once promised at MGM Springfield is no longer realistic concedes top casino official

Paul Tuthill
MGM Resorts International President and CEO Bill Hornbuckle, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, and City Councilor Mike Fenton, who chairs the Casino Oversight Committee (l-r) meet with reporters after a closed door meeting on January 20, 2023 to discuss plans for fully-reopening the MGM Springfield Casino complex.

MGM announces plan to reopen non-gambling amenities largely shuttered since the beginning of the pandemic.

A month after some officials in Springfield, Massachusetts questioned if the MGM casino was fulfilling its economic development promises, the top official with the international entertainment company met Friday with Mayor Domenic Sarno.

After an hour-long private meeting in the mayor’s office, MGM Resorts International President and CEO Bill Hornbuckle said there is now an action plan to restore amenities largely shuttered since the pandemic hit in 2020 including expanding restaurant and bar hours and repurposing retail space. But he conceded an employment goal of 3,000 that was repeatedly pitched to voters a decade ago to win approval to build the casino is unattainable.

“Our original valuation of this market simply was off – full stop,” Hornbuckle said.

He said an employment goal of 2,000 at the casino is more realistic. There are currently about 1,400 employees with more than 250 job openings advertised, according to MGM Springfield officials.

“There is capacity in that building for 3,000 jobs,” Hornbuckle said. “But it is going to involve making Springfield more of a destination and it’s not all on MGM. We can’t do it alone,”

Hornbuckle said more than 30 new table game dealers had recently been trained at MGM’s casino school in Springfield. The expansion of amenities that will take place over the next few months will add “dozens of jobs,” he said. A sportsbook that will begin operating inside the casino at the end of this month will have 20 fulltime employees.

When Las Vegas-style gambling was legalized in Massachusetts in 2011 the major selling point was jobs – initially in the construction industry, where projections were largely fulfilled, and then in the service, hospitality and leisure sectors.

The MGM Springfield casino briefly reached the 3,000 employee mark at the time of its grand opening five years ago. When the COVID-19 shutdown happened in March 2020 there were 2,500 people working at the resort casino that includes a 250-room hotel.

At the press conference that followed the roughly hour-long private meeting in the mayor’s office, Hornbuckle stressed MGM has lived up to its financial commitments to the city as spelled out in a development agreement and paid $107 million to the city. MGM, he pointed out, has put millions into the redevelopment of the former Court Square Hotel into apartments and given generously to local charities.

“We have not lost contact or faith in what (the MGM casino) can bring to Springfield and frankly to MGM resorts,” Hornbuckle said. “We both have a lot invested in this project and it is near and dear to our collective hearts.”

Sarno described the meeting as “constructive” and “positive.”

“ I think the big point here is that they are honoring those financial commitments,” he said.

Also sitting in on the meeting was City Councilor Mike Fenton, who chairs the Council’s Casino Oversight Committee. He said he’ll closely track MGM’s progress in reopening the non-gambling amenities at the casino complex.

“Today is a step in the right direction,” Fenton said. “It is an indication of forward progress that is both practical and exciting.”

The city expects to move later this year to seek proposals to eradicate the blight that remains around the downtown casino in the city’s South End.

Springfield used more than $2 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to buy three vacant buildings near the casino and put a new urban renewal plan in place downtown so city officials can dictate the type of development that occurs in the area.

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.