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Ferrera: Would Springfield get another chance?

Date: 10/25/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – The president of the City Council is expressing serious concern about what will happen to the city’s efforts to land the sole casino license for the region if MGM fails to pass the Massachusetts Gaming Commission’s (MGC) check of its finances.

MGM, though, apparently is not worried.

“If this doesn’t happen for Springfield, what’s the next step?” City Council President James Ferrera III asked.

Ferrera wrote the MGC on Oct. 22 asking for clarification on the matter. He did so in light of the action taken by the owners of Suffolk Downs in dumping Caesars Entertainment as its casino developer. As illustrated in a Boston Globe story by Mark Arseneault, there is a difference between the Springfield host agreement and the Boston host agreement. Boston’s agreement is with Suffolk Downs, the location of a proposed casino, while Springfield’s agreement is with the casino operator itself.

Voters in east Boston and Revere will be voting on the host agreement in about three weeks and the search for a new casino operator is apparently underway.

Ferrera wrote MGC Chair Stephen Crosby, “Recent news regarding Caesars exit from Boston due to licensing issues has caused a great deal of concern in our area regarding the potential for a similar problem here in Springfield with MGM. We all know of MGM’s problems in Macau.

“Reports have indicated that the MGC would make a determination on MGM’s license later this year. If that were the case there would be no opportunity to field another casino company to replace MGM if it fails suitability. Springfield, unlike Boston, has successfully passed its gaming referendum and views a casino development as a major economic initiative for the City.

“The Joint Springfield-West Springfield Casino Mitigation Committee will meet on Tuesday Oct. 21, 2013 and while it is short notice perhaps Mr. [John] Ziemba [MCG ombudsman] could attend the meeting. It would be helpful to the seven communities surrounding Springfield if they were briefed on the MGC’s latest news relative to MGM’s license progress.

“The pressing questions of the day on casino gaming in Western Massachusetts is: When will MGM’s suitability be determined? How can MGM be replaced by another casino company if they fail suitability and is it possible to extend the process of Phase II to accommodate a new casino company in Springfield if need be?”

Ferrera said he is concerned Springfield would not have enough time to find a new casino developer if MGM doesn’t pass the “suitability” evaluation now underway by the MGC.

Crosby released his letter to Reminder Publications, which said, “I can tell you that we have every intention of completing the suitability determinations for all of our remaining Category 1 applicants well before the Dec. 31st deadline for Category 1 applications.”

Of concern to Ferrera is the company’s business association with its Chinese partners in its casino operations in Macau.

By the time of the meeting on Oct. 22, Ferrera has not heard from the MGC. He said he has tried contacting MGM officials without success. He speculated, “Maybe they already know they have not been deemed suitable.”

Reminder Publications received the following statement from Alan Feldman, executive vice president, Global Government & Industry Affairs, MGM Resorts International: “MGM has been granted licenses to operate in jurisdictions across the U.S. and around the world and we see no legitimate reason why we would not be granted one in Massachusetts.”

Ferrera believes the city “rushed through the process” of selecting a casino operator.

At Ferrera’s meeting of the Casino Mitigation Committee on Oct. 22, representatives from East Longmeadow and Longmeadow expressed concern about the process of negotiating agreements with surrounding communities to address traffic concerns.

Longmeadow Select Board member Alex Grant said, “It’s difficult to engage them at this point.”

He charged the MGM officials are “slow-walking the process so communities don’t have sufficient time to address mitigation issues.”

The West Springfield representatives at the meeting – Town Councilors George Kelly and Angus Rushlow – both expressed surprise to learn that West Springfield is the only one of the eight municipalities classified as surrounding communities that is not working with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.

Rushlow said the Town Council was “totally unaware” that West Springfield was going on its own.

East Longmeadow Select Board member Angela Thorpe wondered about an extension of the deadlines involving the agreement.