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As Massachusetts gears up to approve its first casino operator, other U.S. states with gaming are fighting for the right to allow online gambling in a bid for higher profits and broader marketing channel.
MGM Resorts International is nearing a final ruling on its bid to become Massachusetts’ first licensed casino operator, with a proposed $800 million project in Springfield.
Starting Tuesday, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission will hold a series of meetings in Springfield and Boston leading up to a Friday vote in Springfield on who receives the western region casino license.
MGM, which owns the Mirage, Bellagio, MGM Grand and other casinos, is the lone operator standing in a once-crowded field.
Plans by Penn National Gaming and Ameristar Casinos never went before Springfield voters, while proposals by Mohegan Sun in Palmer and Hard Rock International in West Springfield were defeated in local referendums.
MGM’s plan for a casino, hotel, shopping and entertainment complex on 14 1/2 acres straddling the city’s downtown and South End neighborhood was approved by Springfield voters last July.
Still, commission members have been reluctant to describe MGM as a shoe-in, noting the panel has reserved the right to not issue a license now or to impose stipulations or conditions on issuing the license.
Stephen Crosby, chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, said recently he doesn’t expect the five-member commission will need all four days to make its decision. Each commission member is expected to present findings on one of five areas of MGM’s 236-page application that they have been tasked to review.
Crosby, for example, will give an overview of the proposal, including how it “manifests an appreciation” for the Massachusetts “brand,” ”leverages Massachusetts’ existing assets” and enhances the state’s existing tourism and leisure venues, according to the commission’s evaluation guidelines.
Other commissioners will look at the project’s finances, economic impacts, building and site design and impacts on local traffic patterns, gambling addiction and the state lottery.
One open question is whether the commission will take up MGM’s request to delay formal “awarding” of the license at least until early July, when the state Supreme Judicial Court decides whether a voter referendum to repeal the casino law outright should be allowed on the November ballot.
Michael Mathis, CEO of MGM Springfield, has said the Las Vegas-based casino giant is concerned about some $200 million in fees and payments that effectively come due if it is awarded the license.
Those payments could be lost if the casino law is ultimately repealed.
Crosby and other commissioners have declined to say whether they support the delay. But MGM Springfield spokeswoman Carole Brennan says the casino is hopeful.
“The license isn’t going to be awarded, we hope. We will be designated the licensee,” she said.
The western region casino license is one of three authorized under the 2011 casino law.
In the eastern region, Mohegan Sun is proposing a more than $1 billion casino on the Revere side of the Suffolk Downs horse racing track, and Wynn Resorts has proposed a $1.6 billion casino on a former chemical plant in Everett. The commission anticipates awarding that license by the end of August, at the earliest.
In the southeastern region, Foxwoods and other casino operators have expressed interest, but no proposal has yet been put before local voters. The commission will likely not award that license until February.
The commission has already awarded the state’s sole slot parlor license to Penn National Gaming. That slot facility, located at the Plainridge harness racing track in Plainville, is expected to open by June 2015.
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