The era of Las Vegas-style gambling dawned in Massachusetts today, as MGM Resorts International opened its much-anticipated casino in downtown Springfield.
Just before 11 a.m the doors to the $960 million resort casino were opened, with hundreds of employees allowed in first, followed by thousands of people, many of whom had lined up outside before dawn.
The grand opening of the state’s first full-scale casino came seven years after Massachusetts legalized casinos in a bid to capture some of the billions of dollars in gambling money that was going out of state, primarily to the Indian casinos in Connecticut.
A procession preceded Friday’s opening of the MGM casino. It featured Cirque Du Soleil acrobats, Indian Motorcycles, dignitaries in a Springfield Rolls Royce, the UMass Amherst Marching Band, and the Budweiser Clydesdales.
People came from near and far for the much hyped opening. Ron Cross of Westfield was one of the first in line at 4:30 a.m.
"It is really amazing and remarkable and I'm really happy for the city of Springfield and the Pioneer Valley," he said.
Betty Presnell of Newtown Connecticut drove an hour-and-a-half to be one of the first through the doors at the new casino.
"Its just the excitement of being here and I've never ever been to an opening, so this is really cool," she said.
Kenneth Radomski of Chicopee was wearing a jacket with a “Mohegan Sun” logo. He said won’t be going to the Connecticut casino anymore now that there is one so close by.
" Its good for the city to have jobs in the city too," he said.
There had been months of planning by city, state, and MGM officials for traffic, crowd control, and security. MGM President Mike Mathis said the opening was “perfect.”
" I want to complement my staff and the city of Springfield and MassDOT and all the agencies that allowed this experience," said Mathis. " We are going to have lines, we knew that. We will make sure those people are comfortable waiting to get into the building."
For Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, Friday’s grand opening capped seven years of work to bring a casino and the 3,000 jobs that go with it to the city and redevelop an area that was ravaged by a tornado.
" This was under a lot of scrutiny and we came out with flying colors in how we handled this project," said Sarno.
Once the early excitement of the new casino dies down, MGM projects there will be an average of 10,000 visitors a day. Mary Kay Wydra, President of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, said MGM is cross-promoting other attractions to spread the wealth around.
"So we are confident people will come into the area and spread out and move around, so I think all of western Massachusetts will benefit," she said.
MGM is paying $200,000 for a fare-free bus called “The Loop” that will make stops at downtown hotels, museums, Union Station and of course the casino.