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Springfield - MGM Resorts International won the blessing of Massachusetts gambling regulators Friday morning to build and operate an $800 million casino in the city's downtown.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission took a final vote to award the license available for Western Massachusetts, and MGM signed the necessary documents immediately afterward.
The project will involve demolishing several buildings and rebuilding 14.5 acres between Union and State streets, and Columbus Avenue and Main Street. The area includes property destroyed by a tornado..
Friday's approval was widely expected after the commission voted its unanimous support Wednesday for the plan so long as MGM agreed to more than 20 terms and conditions, such as monitoring its hiring practices and traffic on Interstate 91. The commission drafted exact language of those terms Thursday.
This is the first of three regional casino licenses to be awarded by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and the only one in western Massachusetts.
The commission carefully worded the license to take effect after Massachusetts resolves an anti-casino petition drive to repeal the state's 2011 law allowing casinos. Petitioners gathered enough signatures to get the measure on the November ballot, but Attorney General Martha Coakley refused to certify the petitions.
The matter was appealed to the state's Supreme Judicial Court, which is likely to decide this summer if voters will have their say or not.
MGM Resorts International Chairman and CEO Jim Murren, who was in Springfield on Friday for the decision, said if the court allows the issue to go to the ballot in November and the 2011 casino legislation is repealed, his company will have lost more than $30 million it has spent in Massachusetts so far trying to get the license and planning the casino.
"If we get a bad outcome, we're going to have to write everything off," Murren said. "My board will beat me up a little bit for spending all the money that we spent."
If the project is allowed to move forward, there will be several months to finalize the architectural plans and get the necessary building permits before construction begins.
The project involves 90 tax parcels on 14.5 acres. Construction is expected to take about 30 months, and it could be open as early as the first quarter of 2017.
Murren, who grew up in Connecticut and attended Trinity College in Hartford, said MGM is prepared to compete head-to-head with Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods. "We will not only bring the money back to Massachusetts, we'll get some of that Connecticut money up here," Murren said.
Blue Tarp reDevelopment, LLC, which will do business as MGM Springfield, says the complex will have 3,000 slot machines, 100 table games, 250 hotel rooms and eight restaurants. The casino is expected to generate $499 million annually in gaming revenue.