It's been more than six months since the MGM casino in Springfield opened its doors to thousands of gamblers, and curious pedestrians. Here’s a look at some of the casino’s early successes and challenges, and what it all means for Springfield and the state of Massachusetts.
MGM Springfield took in nearly $27 million in revenue in September, its first full month of operation. Then there was a serious drop October through December – all in the low $20 millions per month. And January was a little under $20 million.
Mike Mathis, MGM Springfield president and COO, acknowledged some concern at a state gaming commission meeting in February.
“These numbers are certainly lower than what we had hoped to see in our initial months,” Mathis said. “I think the Plainridge [Park Casino] folks will tell you, and anybody in our industry will tell you, typically we look at a three-year stabilization period.”
Gambling receipts at the big resort casinos in Massachusetts are taxed at 25 percent. That translates to about $5 million per month from MGM Springfield. That’s about the same in taxes paid by the Plainridge slots parlor in eastern Massachusetts — a much smaller facility that’s bringing in much less in casino revenue, but it’s taxed at a much higher rate of 49 percent.
Addictive behavior: ‘with gambling, it takes more time’
All that money has to come from somewhere — or should we say some people. It’s a harmless hobby for some, perhaps, but not all. Some mental health counselors are seeing an uptick in gambling among clients, though not necessarily an increase in people seeking addiction treatment. Meanwhile, services to help problem gamblers seem to be ramping up... but slowly. NEPR’s Karen Brown examines how that’s going. Listen to or read the story here.
Minors in the casino
Meanwhile, MGM has been trying to figure out how to keep people under 21 from getting onto its casino floor. State law says you have to be 21 to be in the area where gambling happens. But MGM has been trying to make the overall location somehow family-friendly and open to people passing through of all ages.
That basic conflict seems to have brought about some challenges in keeping kids away from areas that have been more open to families passing through, for instance, or difficult to monitor closely.
The casino said it had to remove 64 underage people from its gaming area in December. That was a big jump from the single digits in previous months.
One of the challenges was an X-shaped pathway across the casino floor MGM initially tried to make open to people of all ages. It turned out to be more of a problem than a solution for them. The whole area is now considered a gaming area, underscoring an ongoing challenge for MGM: balancing the age restriction with a space they want to keep open and inviting.
While pitching a casino, MGM made promises to win the backing of city officials and Springfield voters. Those promises are enshrined in a document called the host-community agreement.
The Springfield Republican assigned three reporters to explore whether MGM has kept the promises it made to city and state officials. NEPR's Carrie Healy sat down with Peter Goonan of the Republican to talk about where MGM stands. Listen to or read that conversation here.
MGM said it would have 3,000 employees “at opening.” Those numbers have dropped quite a bit since opening day in August. As of December 31 — the most recently available numbers — there were just over 2,500 employees, so not an insignificant drop.
Explaining the decrease, MGM said it’s choosing to give work to local vendors instead of hiring employees to do some jobs, like cleaning. And the overall figure doesn’t count a couple hundred employees who work for business tenants of the casino.
MGM also made promises about what percentage of its jobs would go to specific groups — that 50 percent of employees are people of color, 35 percent are Springfield residents and at least 2 percent are veterans. The casino said it’s meeting most of those goals.
But it’s about 5 percentage points short of its 50 percent goal for women. MGM has told regulators repeatedly over the months, since before the casino opened, that they’re trying to raise that number, but are still well short of the goal.
And there are some holes in the data. One is that the percentages MGM has provided for women, Springfield residents, people of color or veterans include full-time, part-time and on-call employees. But only those full-time jobs have health benefits, so we wanted to know if those percentages change when you look at only full-time positions.
MGM has refused NEPR’s requests, going back to July, to know who is getting those full-time jobs.
Also, Massachusetts Gaming Commissioners have questions about how high up in the casino food chain those employees in target groups are. MGM says it does track all that data – "really rich data," according to the company’s lawyer Seth Stratton — but he’s not committing to release all of it.
“The dialogue we're having now is how much — as a private company — we're putting out there for the world to see,” Stratton told the commission.
MGM and gaming commission staff are supposed to meet to figure out how much detail is released in future employment reports.
Disclosure: MGM has purchased underwriting from New England Public Radio publicizing the company's non-gambling activities. The NEPR newsroom operates independently of the station's development department, and editorial decisions are made without regard to any funding relationships.