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No concrete answers for MGM’s suitability within the region

Dec. 11, 2013 |

By G. Michael Dobbs news@thereminder.com As I write this on the morning of Dec. 10 the corporate brass of MGM Resorts International have finished a day before the Massachusetts Gaming Commission answering question about issues brought forth by the 500-plus-page suitability report. Here is the statement from James Murren, chairman and CEO of the company: “We were very pleased today to follow up on the Massachusetts Gaming Commission’s extensive suitability investigation and detailed report with direct, honest and forthright discussion about MGM Resorts’ responsible business practices around the world. I hope my testimony reflected how proud I am of our company and how willing we have been to work cooperatively with the commission throughout this rigorous licensing process. I look forward to a favorable suitability finding in the very near future.” The report did not find any substantial reason why MGM shouldn’t be allowed to business in the Commonwealth. I’m therefore, willing to bet – pardon the pun – that MGM is heading toward receiving the sole Western Massachusetts casino license. I will pause here for cheers and jeers. If a corporation in the biotech industry or precision manufacturing had decided to build a $1 billion facility in Springfield all of us would be celebrating. Instead we will have a costly addition to our tourism portfolio. One must remember that tourism dollars are huge in this state and in our region. Attractions such as the Basketball Hall of Fame, Six Flags New England and Yankee Candle draw hundreds of thousands of people to the Pioneer Valley. Other retail and service businesses as well as other attractions benefit from this influx of visitors. Having worked at the Basketball Hall of Fame – the first one on the Springfield College campus – I know first hand that museum is visited by people from around the country. It is a valuable asset to Western Massachusetts. The question will be if the proposed casino in the South End will add to the dollars that re-circulate in the area or not? Will the carloads of families that go to Six Flags make MGM Springfield a stop? Will the three-year burst of construction jobs followed by several thousand hospitality jobs really reverse the employment stagnation we’ve seen here? Will the city actually benefit as much as it could have with the host agreement that is in effect for 40 years? Will the money paid by MGM make a difference in property tax relief? And how actually will MGM affect Longmeadow, East Longmeadow, Holyoke, Agawam and West Springfield? The problem with all of these questions is there are no real answers. We’re all jumping out of plane with parachutes we hope will work. I’ve heard from a lot of people that while they may be lukewarm about a casino, that the city must do something. The announcement of the University of Massachusetts Springfield is a step in the right direction. Improving the north-south Amtrak lines and rerouting The Vermonter through Holyoke and Northampton is another plus. Renovating and re-using Union Station is something that should have been done 10 years ago. All of these projects could bring some additional economic benefit. I would love to see actually commuter rail links to Boston, followed by an aggressive campaign to show folks from Eastern Massachusetts that they could live out here and still work in the Boston area. I would think if we actually revised state building codes to allow entrepreneurs to more easily convert old factory buildings into mixed-use structures, we would have a huge development advantage here in the Valley. We need to both have a higher minimum wage and a revised unemployment insurance plan to help workers and business owners both. We need greater levels of decision-making on the local level and hopefully greater involvement from the electorate. I think all of those actions could help us in a way a casino couldn’t. Perhaps the addition of a casino will anger people enough they will insist on measures that could have more positive economic benefits. I might be willing to bet on that. Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at news@thereminder.com or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.

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