MGM taps its Ohio casino operator to run Springfield

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BOSTON, Mass (SHNS) – For the second time in about three months, a Massachusetts casino that’s underperforming is replacing its president and installing a new top executive to oversee operations.

MGM Springfield announced Tuesday morning that Mike Mathis has been replaced as president and chief operating officer by Chris Kelley, who had been leading MGM’s Northfield Park casino in Ohio since April.

Mathis, who has worked on the MGM Springfield project since before it was awarded the western Mass. casino license and has been the public face of the state’s first resort casino, was reassigned to serve as MGM Resorts’ senior vice president of business development.

“We are excited to have Chris lead the MGM Springfield team. Chris’ experience in Ohio, rebranding and integrating a property and introducing MGM to the community, will be an asset for Springfield as we continue to work closely with the community and strive to not only be a world-class entertainment destination but also a good corporate neighbor,” Jorge Perez, regional portfolio president for MGM Resorts International, said. “I also want to recognize Mike for his years of service and all the tremendous work he accomplished in leading MGM Springfield from conception to opening.”

Mathis began working for MGM in 2011 and was vice president of global gaming development for MGM Hospitality, a division of MGM Resorts, when he was tapped in January 2014 to lead MGM’s Springfield project. At the time, MGM said it envisioned Mathis “leading the pre-opening effort and eventual operation of the facility.”

MGM Springfield opened in August 2018 but has not lived up to the revenue expectations it set during the licensing process. MGM executives had told the Mass. Gaming Commission they expected to generate $418 million in gross gaming revenue from the first full year of operations, but the casino actually generated $273.8 million, falling short of the initial projection by $144 million.

During a December appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub, afternoon drive co-host Michael Felger pressed Mathis about whether MGM or other casino companies “gave the state inflated numbers to get your deal.”

“Careful, careful,” Mathis admonished Felger. The casino executive explained that the initial estimates were made in a different business environment.

“One of the things is the process in Massachusetts took some time … so you’re making projections 5, 6, 7 years before you get it open and what happens over time is the market changes, you get competition in other states, those competitors draw a little bit of business from your competitors who get more aggressive,” he said. “So there is a little bit of passage of time and those numbers can get a little bit stale.”

Mathis then argued that casino gaming has been positive for the state regardless of whether the projects have met their initial projections.

“We’ve grown the market. We’ve missed some of our numbers and I think we’re trying to figure out where the market is and where it’s going to go and how long it’s going to take to get there, but there’s definitely opportunities to bring new customers into this business,” he said.

Mathis had recently become more vocal about one of those opportunities: legal sports betting.

During his interview on the Sports Hub, Mathis said it’s time for lawmakers to pick up the pace on a sports betting bill because customers and revenue are leaving for surrounding states that are ahead of Massachusetts.

“We’ve got space — I’m sure Encore and Plainridge have looked at it — we’ve got space ready for a physical sportsbook. But we’re ready to turn it on in a matter of weeks, not months,” he said. “We put infrastructure, we’re spending money just because we don’t want to lose ground to surrounding states once we get this thing through the Legislature.”

As president and COO of MGM Northfield Park, Kelley spearheaded the property’s transition from a Hard Rock casino into an MGM Resorts-operated property. Kelley initially joined MGM Resorts in 2017 as vice president and chief financial officer of MGM Grand Detroit. During his time there, Kelley “acted as a key player in the development of the property’s strategic plan and the implementation and management of continuous improvement efforts, in addition to ongoing enhancements to guest experience,” the company said. Before joining the MGM Resorts, Kelley held numerous positions with Viejas Casino & Resort near San Diego.

In October, Casino Player magazine gave MGM Northfield Park the top billing as the “best overall gaming” experience in Ohio and also recognized the facility for having the best VIP services and best promotions.

MGM said Kelley holds bachelor’s degrees in economics and political science from Connecticut College and received a master’s degree in economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“MGM Springfield has so much to offer its guests and the property has made an extraordinary impact on the city,” MGM Springfield’s new president and COO said. “I’m thrilled to be working with this community and joining this remarkable team. It is wonderful to be heading back home, having grown up in New England.”

The departure of Mathis follows the October exit of Robert DeSalvio, the man who led Wynn Resorts’ Boston-area enterprise from its earliest days through the first few months of operations at Encore Boston Harbor. Brian Gullbrants, a Wynn executive vice president who has worked at the company’s Las Vegas property, took his place.

DeSalvio is now working for gambling giant Genting overseeing all operations at Resorts World Catskills and Resorts World Casino New York City.

The news of Mathis’ departure came Tuesday as shares of the MGM Resorts stock were trading lower amid concern that the outbreak of a new form of viral pneumonia in China might discourage gamblers from congregating at casinos in Macau, like MGM Macau or Wynn Resorts’ three casino properties.

Just before 1 p.m., shares of MGM were trading at $33.45, 3.17 percent or $1.10 lower than the stock’s previous closing price. Shares of Wynn Resorts were down 4.66 percent and were trading at $144.55.

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