BY KILLIAN DOBROTH
An older man in a blue overcoat and a gray vest stood by a translucent slot machine, ordering a drink. His face was spotted with brown freckles and wrinkles and he wore a pair of roundish glasses.
“There’s an old adage,” said the man, John Tranghese of Chicopee. “It goes like this: ‘any port in a storm will do. This casino is our Pioneer Valley port in a storm.”
Rows of slot machines and thematic games lined the room, players huddling around them. Along with the constant buzz and beeping from the electronic games, there was a slight smell of perfume in the air. People lined up for concessions at the seven different restaurants encircling the gaming section of the casino as golf and football games played on background television screens. Six years ago, none of this was here.
In April 2013, incumbent Springfield mayor Domenic Sarno selected the casino as the winning proposal to revitalize Springfield’s economy. When the casino’s blueprints were laid out in September 2015, the town held a vote on its construction.
The casino opened on Aug. 24, 2018. In eight days, it recorded $9.5 million in revenue, returning one percent of the total investment. After a month, the casino had garnered a net revenue of $42.5 million.
In an effort to draw tourists to Springfield’s downtown section and generate business revenue for the city, U.S. Representative Richard Neal (D-MA) led a $95 million renovation project to reopen Springfield’s Union Station. This move was in conjunction with Connecticut’s public transportation investment of $769 million into the Hartford line (as per 2018 reports), which began operating passenger trains between Springfield and New Haven in June 2018. So far, demand for public transportation to downtown Springfield and the MGM casino has been minimal. CT Rail’s Hartford line carries, on an average, 1,860 passengers daily.
While the casino’s original revenue was promising, its subsequent profits are well below what MGM stakeholders had originally projected. MGM had predicted $418 million in annual gross gaming revenue in its first year, breaking down to $34.8 million per month. Instead, it has grossed less than $23 million per month in November, December and January.
“Our economy here in Western [Massachusetts] is so anemic,” said Tranghese. “There’s so little opportunity for employment. We desperately needed a facility like this, which employs 3,000 people and which has an investment of a billion dollars.” Tranghese, who is 85, grew up in Springfield. He reminisced about a time when the city’s now struggling manufacturing sector was firing on all cylinders.
“We have lost the heart of our industrial base here in Western Massachusetts,” said Tranghese, who referenced the losses of [big area] companies including Uniroyal, Westington House Electric and Springfield Armory. “They’re all gone,” he said.
Springfield Armory closed in 1968, causing economic despair in the area. In 1980, Uniroyal closed its doors, laying off around 1,600 employees. Tranghese’s perspective reflects the way these closings have affected the community, and how the workforce is still struggling to recover.
Tranghese has been a salesperson in the transportation industry since 1958 and has spent a considerable amount of time in and around the Springfield area throughout his life. He is passionate about writing country music and currently writes promotional songs for organizations such as the NBA, the Special Olympics and MGM.
He believes that his jingles can help save the casino’s sinking profits, and has offered the commercial rights to the jingle he wrote specifically for MGM to the casino:
If you want to have some fun,
And lose your problems on the run,
Join us at our sparkling gem,
Fashioned here at MGM
“I believe they will be missing a solid opportunity, should they reject my offer,” said Tranghese. “A decision of that nature will have to be made in the corporate headquarters in Las Vegas.”
Just like with any game of chance, MGM Springfield has taken a gamble. MGM initially invested $1 billion in the casino, in hopes that the niche of entertainment could act as a prosperous new sector of the economy long after industrial jobs disappeared.
In 2016, the city of Holyoke effected a similar plan with the renovation of Gateway City Arts (GCA), an entertainment and office-space complex, situated in the middle of the mostly Puerto Rican area of Holyoke known as the Flats. Despite a seemingly similar potential for economic growth, GCA seems to be targeting the affluent white population of the Pioneer Valley area, rather than the local Holyoke community.
This growth serves as a cautionary tale for what could become of MGM Springfield. Although part of the deal with the city of Springfield was a focus on employment from the local community, with a target goal of providing 3,000 jobs, it has yet to prove its economic and social worth within the city.