The nearly billion-dollar MGM casino in Springfield is slated to open this time next year. That's the company's expectation, and it's certainly the hope of Steve Crosby, chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
NEPR sat down Crosby to talk about the timeline for opening the casino, as well as diversity goals, the proposed Bridgeport casino, and other issues.
NEPR’s Kari Njiiri: Officials at MGM Springfield say the $960 million casino is scheduled to open in September 2018. MGM just submitted its latest plan called "MGM 95 Percent Construction Design." Are you confident that a September opening will be possible?
Steve Crosby: The short answer would be yes. I mean, we track this very closely. We have a team of people who collaborate with MGM and with their construction people. And we’re confident that their estimates, so far, are correct.
They’re trying to get everything ready to go to interior work during the winter, and if there was some really, really bad weather that might slow them down, things can always happen. But as the way things are looking now, they look very much on target to open in September of next year.
With regards to hiring, MGM says it expects to hire 3,000 workers. But regulations governing who can work at the casino could potentially rule out many of those with criminal records, who really are most in need of a job.
When we last spoke with you last year, you mentioned that the gaming commission was concerned about that as well, and that you had written the legislature asking it to revise the rules, specifically for those who would be working in non-sensitive positions. What is the current status? Has the issue been resolved?
It’s not been resolved, but the leadership of both the House and the Senate in the legislature have said that this was a mistake. This was not what they intended for the rules to be, to — that is, it is a mistake to disqualify what you call non-sensitive, or non-gaming employees, because of some kinds of criminal records, automatically. That’s what happens now.
And they say that they will pass an amendment to our statute sometime maybe within the next month to clear this up. And we, and others, are working very, very hard to urge the legislature to get it done in a month or so.
When it comes to diversity in hiring and construction, has MGM adhered to those diversity goals to the commission's satisfaction?
Again, the answer is yes, and again, we monitor them very, very closely. We have a monthly meeting with them and with their contractors, and with labor unions, and so forth, to make sure that the women and the minorities and veterans goals are met. And in fact, MGM, through the construction phase, has pretty substantially exceeded almost all of their goals, both in employment, but also in vendor relationships.
You may be aware that Connecticut signed off recently on a new agreement to allow for a new casino in East Windsor — which is just about 13 miles from Springfield — that would be run by the tribes that own Foxwoods and the Mohegan Sun.
And more recently, MGM announced that it would build a casino in Bridgeport, although it has no agreement with the state to build one. Have these developments changed the calculus for the gaming commission when it come to assessing MGM Springfield’s future?
Not really. We’ve always tried to be cautious in our estimates of the kind of revenue that will be generated. We’ve estimated that amongst the three facilities — the slots parlor, the Wynn casino, and the MGM casino here in Springfield — among the three of them, they would generate $250 to $300 million in tax revenue a year.
The MGM share of that would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million annually, and we have every reason to think that those are numbers that we can still rely on.
Do you see the announcement of MGM building a casino in Bridgeport as being one that might siphon off its commitment, if you will, to Springfield?
First of all, the Bridgeport casino is a long, long, long way off from being a reality, and we’ve learned not to lose too much sleep over things that are highly, highly speculative.
Having said that, it seems to be pretty much a different market. It’s really aiming towards the New York market. It might take away from Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, but we don’t think it would likely have much impact. But as I said, that is so far in the distance that it’s hard to spend too much time worrying about it.
We recently aired a story about the gaming commission's "self exclusion" program, which basically allows people with gambling addictions to ban themselves from casinos for a set period of time. It's a whole lot easier to sign up right now in eastern Massachusetts than it is in western Mass. I’d imagine getting an office out here is a priority. And if so, how soon should we expect that?
Well, certainly, within the next year, before the casino is open, we hope to have set up an intake system, maybe using community health workers, maybe it’ll just be our own personnel, we’re not sure what yet. But we’re working with the Department of Public Health to put together a network that will make the voluntary self-exclusion list readily accessible to people. And it will be ready before the casino opens.
Heather Brandon contributed to this report.