MGM casino to be built in Springfield causes controversy

 Graphic by Natalie Kulak ’21

Graphic by Natalie Kulak ’21

BY  EMMA RUBIN ‘20 

A new casino complex owned by MGM Resorts International is scheduled to open in Springfield, MA in September of this year. The $960 million project has been in progress since its approval in 2013 and has drawn critics as well as fervent supporters.

Some residents believe that the casino will bring economic development and job flow that is desperately needed in Springfield. Others think the extensive gambling facility will have a disproportionately negative effect on the city’s low-income community.

Unlike most casinos, which are usually built away from city centers, MGM Springfield will be situated in downtown Springfield. Though original plans called for demolitions of certain buildings, the Springfield Historical Commission challenged the demolition plans and MGM is collaborating with the city to incorporate historical sites such as the Union House and the MassMutual Building into the design, according to the Boston Globe.

The Massachusetts Expanded Gaming Act, passed in 2011, allows up to three casino-style resorts and one slot parlor in the state. Following this legislation, several luxury casino companies, including MGM, proposed bids in Springfield, Holyoke, Palmer and West Springfield in 2012 to obtain the Western Massachusetts casino license. In April of 2013, Mayor Dominic Santo selected MGM’s proposal for Springfield’s official bid to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. Voters subsequently approved the plan in a July referendum by a vote of 58 percent. Competing proposals in Holyoke and Palmer were not approved by voters, so the Massachusetts Gaming Commission granted MGM the license for Western Massachusetts in June 2014.

According to MGM’s website, the elaborate plan includes 250 hotel rooms, a sports and entertainment venue, an outdoor dining/entertainment district, a theater venue, five restaurants, three lounges and bars and a 125,000-square-foot casino, as well as additional entertainment sites. In total, the complex will be about two million square feet. 

Maryanne Magnier ’18 is from Springfield and remembers her parents voting on the issue in 2013. Though her parents share similar political views, they were divided on the question of whether to vote in favor of the new development. “They’re both liberal, so I wasn’t sure why they were divided,” she said. Magnier’s parents represent the two different perspectives on how the casino will affect the city.

While some Springfield residents maintain that the casino will bring economic development and new jobs to the city center, Magnier is hesitant about how it could target the low-income population in the city. “[Gambling] has been very predatory for low-income communities, which Springfield definitely is,” she said.  

A study from the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions found that “problem gambling was twice as likely in neighborhoods with the highest levels of concentrated poverty compared to neighborhoods with the lowest poverty levels.” The study also found that those who live within 10 miles of a casino are twice as vulnerable to problem gambling. Based on U.S. Census Bureau Data for Springfield, the poverty rate is 29.7 percent and the per capita income is $19,027. 

Another concern is the potential gentrification of Springfield’s downtown. “[Economic development] is what I see as a positive, bringing new business, opportunities for employment  or building restaurants in the area,” Magnier said.  “But that is something that might contribute to the gentrification of the area.” Springfield’s city council has collaborated with MGM to guarantee at least 54 units of market rate apartments downtown, but will not require the completion of such housing developments until March 2020, 18 months after the casino’s opening. MGM is expected to have  “firm commitment and documentation” of the project’s construction plan in March 2019, according to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.  

Magnier also recognized the potential positive outcomes of the casino such as offering new jobs and increasing Springfield’s public image. “Springfield now is seen as a very scary area to be in. It is very low income, it has a lot of crime, it used to have a lot of corruption,” she said:  “If it makes people see Springfield as a little more positive, that is a good thing.”

In early April, MGM Casino began its first phase of hiring, posting about 1,000 jobs on its website. The company is planning to hire 3,000 people to staff the complex. According to Northeast Public Radio, MGM has collaborated with Springfield Technical Community College and Holyoke Community College to provide classes on dealing table games. Any student who is hired by MGM and works for them for at least one year will be reimbursed for the course. MGM will also provide an on-site childcare center to assist single parents working in the complex.

MGM has confirmed that its wages will be above state minimum wage and that the average annual salary will be $40,000. Within MGM’s license with the state, the company is required to hire Springfield residents for at least 35 percent of its staff. 

Anna MacDonnell ’21 is from Longmeadow, MA, a town just south of Springfield. Though she noted that traffic has improved since construction first began, she said, “There is still heavy traffic, and the lanes that can be used change every couple of months with little warning.”

Looking beyond construction issues, MacDonnell said, “People both in Springfield and Longmeadow are concerned about the traffic the casino will bring when finished.” Though MacDonnell lives on campus during the academic year, she will be commuting from her home this summer while working at Mount Holyoke and is worried about how the casino could extend her drive.

Despite concerns from residents, MGM’s website emphasizes its goal to support the local community. “The MGM Springfield team has integrated itself into the fabric of the city and the broader Western Massachusetts region in an effort to reflect, sustain and build on the best of what the area has to offer – its businesses, neighborhoods, institutions, art, culture and local nuances,” the website states. MGM has collaborated with local Western Massachusetts organizations including Community Partners Network, a conglomeration of organizations and unions that aim to increase hiring opportunities for minorities, veterans and women. 

Careers will be available in the casino complex in many different fields, according the Daily Hampshire Gazette. “We have a lot of positions people might not be aware of,” said MGM’s Vice president of talent and workforce development, Wanda Gispert. “Any profession except for medical, we have it here.” 

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