A milestone was marked and a labor union tradition honored today during the construction of the first casino in western Massachusetts.
With hundreds of construction workers, local and state officials, and other dignitaries looking on the final piece of steel was put in place Wednesday morning on the MGM resort casino that is being built in downtown Springfield.
A steel ring, painted white and autographed by workers and invited guests, adorned with an evergreen tree, the American flag, and several banners was hoisted atop what will be the casino hotel rotunda.
As the final piece of steel was set in place an air horn blared and people on the ground applauded and cheered.
Fiorre Grassetti, business agent for Ironworkers Union Local 7 and president of the Pioneer Valley Central Labor Council, said the “topping-off” is an ironworkers’ tradition, but Wednesday’s ceremony was a salute to all the more than 1,100 people who have had a hand so far in building the casino.
MGM committed to hire a construction workforce of at least 2,000 people. It is on pace to meet that goal and has exceeded targets for employing women, minorities, and veterans on the jobsite, according to required reports filed with state regulators.
" We have an agreement between the building trades and MGM for a diverse local workforce that keeps the benefits of this project supporting the community of Springfield and surrounding towns," said Grassetti.
The milestone for the $950 million project was observed two years and five days after the groundbreaking for the casino. After that ceremony in 2015, the actual start of construction work was delayed as the project went through a controversial redesign and downsizing.
Now the building is going up fast, but there are no plans to open the casino ahead of the September 2018 target, according to MGM Springfield President Mike Mathis.
"We are comfortably on schedule because some of the winter days we 'banked' we did not need, but it is still early, and we want to make sure we are realistic," said Mathis.
As work continues on the Springfield project, the gaming landscape is evolving. The Indian tribes that operate two casinos in Connecticut are seeking authorization from state officials to build a third casino in East Windsor, just 13 miles from the MGM casino. And, Massachusetts officials are actively looking at legalizing online gambling.
Massachusetts Gaming Commissioner Enrique Zuniga said the regulators have not updated revenue projections for the MGM casino to reflect the potential new competition.
" I am not concerned at this point because a third Connecticut casino is just a plan and this is real progress," Zuniga said as he pointed to the completed steel superstructure of the MGM casino.
Zuniga said he does not see online gambling as a threat to the viability of casinos like the one MGM is building.
" As I understand it from the ( gambling industry the plan) is to engage ( people) online to bring them into the brick and mortar casino, which sounds like a legitimate strategy," said Zuniga.
Mayor Domenic Sarno described the MGM casino as a “momentous project” that had proven “naysayers” wrong by already spurring additional economic development activity in Springfield.