What to make of MGM’s effort to slow down the awarding of the casino license the company has been working—and spending—so hard to obtain?
Earlier this week, Michael Mathis, head of MGM’s proposal for the South End, asked the Mass. Gaming Commission to hold off on awarding the western Mass. casino license that company is all but assured to win. Mathis cited the uncertainty created by a potential ballot question this fall to overturn the law that legalized casinos in the state.
The MGC had been expected to make its decision on the Springfield proposal by June—before the likely resolution of a Supreme Judicial Court case that will determine whether the question will, indeed, go on the ballot. Apparently, MGM doesn’t want to gamble—yes, I said it—on losing any more money on its proposed $800 million project if there’s a chance the entire casino enterprise could be scrapped. The awarding of the license would trigger an $85 million fee from MGM to the state, among other costs.
Casino opponents see MGM’s request a promising sign that the casino company is getting cold feet. Yesterday, John Ribeiro, chair of Repeal the Casino Deal, the group behind the proposed ballot questions, released a statement calling the casino company’s request “yet another sign that the casino industry is acutely aware that the Massachusetts landscape for casinos has shifted and the bubble of inevitability has long-ago burst. Smart leaders like former Boston Mayor Tom Menino are now saying the repeal effort, once we get to the ballot, will succeed and clearly MGM doesn’t have much faith in its legal case.
“The $85 million application fee isn’t much to a company which earned nearly $1 billion off the backs of its customers last year but it is telling that our grassroots movement has made them blink about this bad bet,” Ribeiro continued.
Meanwhile, Springfield officials, who are relying heavily on a casino to be an economic savior for the city, find themselves scrambling to do some damage control. In today’s Republican, Kevin Kennedy, City Hall’s chief of development, tells reporter Pete Goonan that City Hall doesn’t see the request “as a setback. … [b]ecause there is already existing uncertainty as it relates to the ballot question … and what the Supreme Judicial Court will rule.”
Goonan’s article continued: “The city, however, has had discussions and will continue to have discussions with MGM ‘as to their obligations to the city based on the host community agreement.’ [Kennedy] declined specific comment on MGM’s obligations, but said they are spelled out in the agreement between the city and MGM.”
Springfield isn’t the only place feeling some significant casino-related turmoil. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has called on MGC Chairman Stephen Crosby to recuse himself on voting on a Boston-area casino, saying he has demonstrated bias against the city. And Walsh’s predecessor, Tom Menino, recently predicted in an interview on a Boston news station that if the repeal question makes it to the ballot, it will pass. “"It's a political quagmire. It's a mess. ... I think the public is off this casino,” he said. “Nothing good can come out of this. It's too much nonsense, too much conversation, too many questions about who's involved and how it's going to happen. People get tired of that after a while and say, 'Let's go onto the next issue.' I really believe that if it goes on the ballot, it'll lose."