Ten days before the opening of the state’s first resort casino, Massachusetts gaming industry regulators have put restrictions on the use of a large electronic sign promoting attractions at the MGM Springfield casino.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission voted Tuesday to deny permission for MGM to display moving images on a large sign attached to the casino parking garage that faces Interstate 91 after three of the five commissioners said they were very concerned it could distract drivers and cause crashes.
As regulators, Commissioner Gayle Cameron said they must balance MGM’s need for splashy advertisements to attract customers with concerns about public safety.
"There are so many people coming, so many people excited, and we also are invested in you having a great opening ( of the casino) and a couple of major crashes will not help," said Cameron.
There are few examples in Massachusetts of the type of dynamic displays MGM planned to use on the outdoor sign. There is a small video sign at the Basketball Hall of Fame, also located along I-91 in Springfield, and a large video screen with moving images at the WGBH studios facing the Massachusetts Turnpike in Boston.
" I realize it is common in Las Vegas, but it is just not common to drivers here," said Cameron.
Because the sign is on MGM’s property and only advertises events and attractions at the casino complex, it is not considered a highway billboard despite the fact it faces a heavily traveled interstate. MassDOT does not permit video to be shown on highway billboards and static images cannot be changed more frequently than at 8-second intervals, according to current regulations.
Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby said the state regulators should consider deferring to the city on the issue of the sign. He said city officials issued the necessary permits to build the sign, and also required MGM to do a follow-up study on traffic safety impacts.
"The city is probably more invested in it than we are," said Crosby. "They are the ones that approved it and will take more flak than we are if there is an issue."
MGM Springfield President Mike Mathis told the commissioners at the meeting in Boston Tuesday that switching on the big sign, which includes the familiar trademark lion logo, is a top priority in the countdown to the casino opening.
"Some of this is, as we've discussed in prior hearings, is to trust in us as operators who have done this at many different venues across the world that we will strike that right balance," Mathis told the commissioners
Aside from the flap about the sign, commissioners were told that all is proceeding smoothly toward the scheduled August 24th opening of the casino.
Two full-scale evaluations of the casino gaming floor operations are scheduled for the evenings of August 16th and 20th. Passing those live tests is the remaining regulatory hurdle to MGM opening the doors of the Springfield casino to the public.