The state's first full casino is opening for business tomorrow. And MGM Springfield held its grand opening ceremony today. WGBH News reporter Craig LeMoult attended the opening and spoke with WGBH All Things Considered host Barbara Howard about it. The following transcript has been edited for clarity.
Barbara Howard: What was the vibe like at today's press conference?
Craig LeMoult: I'd say it wasn't like any other press conference I've ever been to. It opened with a performance by the Blue Man Group, which are those performers with the blue faces who drum on PVC pipes, and it ended with a dance performance from a group called the Jabberwockies, who are also regulars in Las Vegas. I really think that's sort of what MGM was going for. They wanted a big splash with this event. Their slogan on the walls and in their presentation was “Welcome to the Show.” And of course, the show also had to include a lot of politicians talking. One of them naturally was Springfield mayor Dominic Sarno, who sees today as a big victory. Sarno talked about the tornado that destroyed about a third of the city seven years ago, and he likened the opening of the casino to a phoenix rising from the ashes. I spoke with him after the press conference and he really emphasized how many jobs the casino would create.
Sound from Sarno:
"I'm running into people left and right - 'hey mayor, hey Don, hey Sarno, I'm working at MGM' - or my family member, or my friend. It's great. So not only you put a little money in your pocket, but the self-esteem, and then you're able to provide for yourself, provide for your family, provide for the city."
MGM says nearly 40 percent of the people hired are from Springfield, and Sarno says that comes to about 1,000 people. It also, of course, means a big influx of money for the city. Sarno says that's $17.8 million a year in property taxes, plus $8 million in annual community host agreement payments.
Howard: The casinos are also going to be bringing in revenue for the state. Is that right?
LeMoult: Yeah absolutely. And actually, Governor Charlie Baker was at MGM to applaud the opening.
Sound from Sarno:
"This is a big day, but I have no doubt there are going to be many big days associated with the impact that this enterprise and this project is going to have on this community and this region."
It's also of course going to have a big impact on state revenues, although maybe not as much as was projected. I talked today with Paul DeBole, who's a professor at Lasell College. He studies public policy in casinos and he actually used to advise casinos when he was working for a lobbying firm. He said MGM estimates it will make about $412 million in the first year. But he ran the numbers and says he's expecting the slot machines to take in a little less than MGM is expecting, and that's going to bring down that annual revenue.
Sound from DeBole:
"We think that the numbers are going to be about $370 million, which is about $42 million less in the first year of operations than in the average case scenario in their application."
LeMoult: And that, he says, will add up to about $10 million a year less in the state gaming tax, but it still comes to about $92 million a year for the state.
Howard: What about the problems, though, that can come with casinos, like gambling addiction?
LeMoult: Yeah, absolutely. You open a casino and that is going to be an issue, and it's a concern. And I asked MGM Springfield’s President Michael Mathis about that.
Sound from Mathis:
"There are those that struggle with responsible gaming and we've got resources for them, and in fact we've partnered with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission in a really innovative way in terms of having real estate within the casino devoted to a program called “Game Sense." And “Game Sense” provides information and counseling resources directly on the casino floor."
LeMoult: And he really made a point of saying gambling is just one of the many things you can do at this new facility.
Howard: Well, what is the casino itself like?
LeMoult: In a lot of ways it feels like walking around a Las Vegas casino. This was a $960 million project. It's really huge. There's a gaming floor that's 125,000 square feet, with more than 2500 slot machines. You know, we only have one other casino in the state, and it's really just a slot parlor, it didn't have any gaming tables. This has 120 gaming tables. Of course, there are also shops, 13 restaurants, and a hotel with 252 rooms. I got to see one of the suites where I think the high rollers stay. It was pretty swanky, and it's not cheap. Even the starting room rate is $219 a night. They really emphasized they were trying to really blend in to the Springfield history and culture, and there's little touches throughout where they've tried to bring in the local history of Springfield. For example, there's these light fixtures that are designed to be reminiscent of the style of Dr. Seuss, whose real name of course was Theodor Geisel. He grew up in Springfield. And as you walk down the hallways to the hotel rooms, there are quotations from poems by Emily Dickinson that are printed in the carpeting. She was from nearby Amherst.
Howard: Thanks for joining us Craig.
LeMoult: You're very welcome.