|By G. Michael Dobbs|
SPRINGFIELD In the casino race, the common wisdom is Palmer-based Mohegan Sun wouldn't have much interest in Springfield, but representatives of the casino told residents attending a community meeting on Jan. 17 that they see their casino proposal as a regional effort.
About 30 people attended "a community conversation" in the cafeteria in the Gerena Middle School on Jan. 17. After a speaking program, the attendees were served supper and the speakers went from table to table meeting them.
Mohegan Sun has operated an office in Palmer for several years previous to the passage of legislation in the Bay State that made expanded gaming legal. Peter Schultz, project coordinator for the proposed Palmer casino, told the residents the meeting was "bringing the office to you."
The proposed casino in Palmer would be vying for the sole casino license in Western Massachusetts against Hard Rock in West Springfield and MGM Resorts and Penn National Gaming in Springfield.
Schultz acknowledged "there is a long ways to go yet" as he predicted the Massachusetts Gaming Commission would not be naming the winners of the casino licenses in the state until February or March of 2014.
He added, "Springfield is important to us because we have a regional approach."
When asked if the host agreement with Palmer would have language to give preference to Palmer residents for jobs, Schultz said that might be part of the agreement, although he was not allowed to comment specifically.
Jobs were the primary focus of the conversation with long-time Mohegan Sun employee Maria Echevarvia who explained the opportunities that has come her way. She said she started as a cashier in 1996 and has worked her way to shift manager.
"It's a wonderful company to work for," she said. "There is so much room for advancement."
Tricia Powers, operations manager of B & G Restaurant Equipment and Supplies of Pittsfield, said her company has been doing business with Mohegan Sun for the past decade and has seen their workforce grow from 15 employees to 40.
Powers attributed at least part of that growth to the company's association with the casino.
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