Memories of 2011 were on officials’ minds Thursday as they celebrated the imminent grand opening of MGM Springfield, reflecting on both the passage of the state’s expanded gambling law that November and the tornado that ravaged the city of Springfield months earlier.
“To look back at seven years ago, as we were in search and rescue and triage, to see from that rubble, to see from those ashes, a phoenix has risen, and that phoenix is MGM,” Mayor Domenic Sarno said. “So come on to Springfield. The red carpet is rolled out. You’re going to have a clean, a safe and a fun time.”
Bookended by performances by the Blue Man Group and the dance group Jabbawockeez, the press conference marked the first use of MGM Springfield’s Aria ballroom and the last full day before Massachusetts’ first resort casino opens.
The $960 million casino is set to open its doors on Friday 11 a.m., after a parade through the city’s downtown featuring employees, construction workers, local dignitaries and “surprise entertainment.”
Sarno said mayors “in urban America” know three things are needed to “knock down the vicious cycle of poverty and public safety issues” — family, education and jobs. He said he runs into people every day who tell him how excited their relatives or friends are to be working for MGM.
“Many times in urban America people will say, ‘Well, what do you expect?’ And for many years in Springfield, you heard, ‘What the hell do you expect, it’s Springfield,’ ” Sarno said. “Now people are saying, ‘Why not Springfield?’ and MGM making this investment here has spurred a tremendous amount of economic development.”
The new casino will be the first New England property for MGM Resorts, according to the company’s president and chief operating officer, Connecticut native Jim Murren, who said he saw The Kinks perform at the Springfield Civic Center in 1991.
Now known as the MassMutual Center, the concert venue is under the MGM umbrella and plans to host Stevie Wonder on Sept. 1. Murren said when he was a student at Trinity College, Springfield was “the only place to see great concerts,” like The Doors and the Grateful Dead.
“We’re bringing all that entertainment back,” Murren said. “All of it’s coming back. It’s not going to be messing around at Mohegan Sun anymore. We’re a little bit bigger than them. We’re bringing entertainment back here, starting with a guy you might have heard of. Stevie Wonder’s coming back here.”
The Legislature and Gov. Deval Patrick in 2011 agreed to a new law that would allow three resort casinos and one slots parlor to open in Massachusetts, a move proponents had argued would create jobs, boost state revenues, and support economic development in communities that opted to host casinos, which could pick up the gaming dollars Bay Staters were otherwise spending in places like Connecticut’s Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.
“After seven long years, I say, it’s about time to party,” Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby said.
Crosby looked back to the birth of his agency, launched with just the five commissioners, a chief of staff and an executive assistant. “And we had no freaking idea how to start a casino gambling industry,” he said to laughs.
He praised the commission’s staff and those involved with the slots-only Plainridge Park Casino, which opened in 2015, saying they had “performed admirably, even while Plainridge has served as sort of a test site for the MGM casino.”
A second full casino, the Wynn Resorts-backed Encore Boston Harbor in Everett, is set to open in June 2019.
Gov. Charlie Baker described the new MGM building as “incredibly Springfield-centric” and said he “can’t wait to have a chance to come play here.”
“This is a big day, but I have no doubt there are going to be many days associated with the impact that this enterprise and this project is going to have on this community and this region,” he said.