MGM chief confident in Massachusetts casino bid despite repeal effort

Reuters

By Scott Malone

BOSTON, Dec 5 (Reuters) - The chief executive of MGM ResortsInternational expressed confidence on Thursday that his plan todevelop a gambling casino in western Massachusetts would winregulatory approval despite opposition by activists who opposecasinos in the state.

Massachusetts has yet to approve a casino proposal, morethan two years since Governor Deval Patrick signed a lawallowing for three to be built in the state. Voters in severalcities and towns have rejected proposed developments.

MGM has proposed a casino hotel complex in Springfield, acity about 90 miles (145 km) west of Boston, and its plan is upfor a suitability review before the state gaming commission onMonday.

"I have every reason to expect that we will be foundsuitable," said James Murren, chief executive of MGM."But as I said, it's out of my hands."

Murren and Springfield officials have touted the developmentas a needed shot in the arm to the economy of Massachusetts'third-largest city, already home to a Six Flags theme park andthe Basketball Hall of Fame.

Voters have approved the proposed development inSpringfield, where one in four residents lives below the povertyline, more than double the state average. It still needs theblessing of the Massachusetts Gambling Commission, which intendsto award the licenses for resort casinos in April.

An opposition group called Repeal the Casino Deal is pushingfor a statewide referendum in 2014 to strike down the casinobill. The group recently turned in enough signatures to stateofficials to earn their measure a place on the ballot next year.But a court is reviewing a constitutional challenge to theballot measure from state Attorney General Martha Coakley.

"When you get the facts about what casino gambling brings toa community, people don't want to live near them," said JohnRibeiro, chairman of the opposition group. "Sure, let's take atrip to Vegas, but don't put Vegas in our backyard."

TRAFFIC AND CRIME

Ribeiro said casinos would create new costs for state andlocal governments in the form of increased traffic and crime,while diverting spending from other area tourist attractions.

Murren, who spoke to reporters after addressing the BostonCollege Chief Executives' Club, said his development wouldcreate 2,000 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent positionswhen complete.

"If a company puts over $700 million into a city, as Iintend to do, it's probably going to be pretty good for thatcity," Murren said.

Casino gambling has had mixed success in New England.Connecticut has two large casinos owned by Indian tribes, thefirst of which opened almost 30 years ago. The growth of thosefacilities prompted Maine to allow two small casinos, and RhodeIsland has two slot machine parlors.

But New Hampshire state legislators in May rejected a billthat would have allowed construction of a casino that had strongsupport from Governor Maggie Hassan, who said it would booststate revenue without the need for a tax hike.

The 2011 Massachusetts law legalizing casino gambling carvedthe state up into three regions: the east, including Boston; thesoutheast including the Cape Cod beach area, and the more ruralwest, where Springfield is the main city.

Proposed casino projects have run into local opposition inmany Massachusetts communities. Voters in East Boston last monthrejected a proposal to build a $1 billion casino backed byCaesars Entertainment Corp on the site of a horseracingtrack, and a referendum in Palmer, Massachusetts, defeated aproposed casino that would have been in contention with MGM forthe western Massachusetts license.

Another project backed by Wynn Resorts Ltd isseeking approval for a casino just outside Boston.

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