MGM Springfield is no match for Mohegan Sun, Foxwoods

Despite Gov. Ned Lamont's surprise suggestion two weeks ago, that MGM and the Mohegans and Mashantucket Pequots might come to agreement about the future of Connecticut gambling, the prospects of such a deal seem dimmer than ever.

I'll give the benefit of the doubt to the governor, who said give him a few weeks to see if he might be able to announce a tribal–MGM deal.

Maybe it's the passing of two weeks already, or maybe the news story last week that MGM has pushed Foxwoods out of its prime advertising billboard perch at Fenway Park, but I am feeling more confident than ever that there's no bringing the Vegas giant together with the Connecticut tribes for a deal that would amicably carve up the gambling pie here.

It's too bad, because I liked the idea that maybe the tribes, if allowed to build their East Windsor casino, would allow a commercial casino in Bridgeport that would release them from paying the state 25 percent of the reservation slot machine revenues.

That might be a good bargain for eastern Connecticut, if tax-free casinos here are healthy.

Indeed, it looks to me, after a visit to MGM Springfield, that no-tax tribal casinos in eastern Connecticut might compete pretty well with a taxpaying MGM casino in Bridgeport.

The Springfield casino is a yawner. Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun are, in comparison, spectacular in every way.

Mind you I am not a casino player, and I assume that the gambling experience, time at the tables or working slot machines, is pretty comparable at all three casinos.

But in most other respects — dining, entertainment and shopping opportunities — the reservation casinos are remarkably more interesting. They are true destination resorts.

For a wow factor, for instance, it's hard to compare the experience of handing your car over to a valet parker in the big concourse at Foxwoods Grand Pequot Tower, drifting through the immense, grandly decorated hotel lobby and ascending by fast elevator to the 24th floor, where you can dine sumptuously with views across the rolling hills of eastern Connecticut.

MGM Springfield has a food court and a few pretty ordinary, overpriced restaurants.

Reservation casinos: A golf course, an enormous sports arena, performance theaters, zip line, bumper cars, bowling alleys, swimming pools, dozens of restaurants and bars, buffets, a brew pub, a huge shopping mall, comedy clubs, sculptures by famous artists, waterfalls, fountains and hotel towers with spectacular room views.

MGM Springfield: A seven-screen Regal movie complex.

I can't emphasize enough at how underwhelmed I was by the inside of MGM Springfield. You could literally be inside a casino in anywhere USA.

I suppose a lot of the close to $1 billion it cost was spent on blending it in with the Springfield streetscape. This was indeed done masterfully, and the city-facing facades are beautiful and very convincing, like they are part of the original fabric of the old city.

The problem with integrating this new casino with the neighborhood around it, though, is that many of the surrounding buildings are empty and run down. The elegant casino facades almost mock the extensive blight that stares back.

It's like showing up in a dive bar wearing a tuxedo.

The concept, a new and interesting one in casino design, was that there would be a natural flow between the city and the casino, that stores and restaurants of the casino would face the street, drawing in city passers-by, and casinogoers would drift outside to the sidewalks and merge into the urban experience.

It's not working, at least not yet. The people I saw trudging by on their way to the bus stop didn't seem interested in the posted menu for the casino steakhouse, with entrée prices breaking the $30 mark. The only people I saw leaving the casino to stroll the sidewalk were catching a cigarette.

Maybe it's too early, and casino-related development riches will begin to flow toward the city. But, so far, there is no apparent sign of much investment in the privately owned neighborhood around the casino.

This makes me think that even if MGM were to plop a $1 billion casino on the Bridgeport waterfront, it wouldn't be able to compete very well with what the two tribes have built over the years in eastern Connecticut. It seems like fabulous tax-free casinos here would be worth the drive beyond Bridgeport, if all MGM could produce there is what it has done in Springfield.

Who knows? Maybe the governor still will be able to pull a tribal–MGM deal out of his magic hat. It would be quite a trick.

But time is ticking on the few weeks' deadline the governor set for himself.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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