MGM Resorts International upped the ante in the Western Massa chusetts casino stakes last week with a hugely ambitious proposal for an entertainment complex in Springfield. Such a grandiose project, should it be realized, has potential drawbacks and benefits for the Berkshires.
Springfield assuredly feels flattered with Ameristar Casinos also eyeing the city and two other casino groups poking about. Palmer is in the mix as well, but Springfield's location at the axis of the Massachusetts Turnpike and Route 91 gives it obvious advantages. MGM's plan would contribute to the city's revitalization by building on 10 acres heavily damaged by a tornado a year ago.
Casinos have expanded from gambling into entertainment in recent years and a Springfield casino could pose a threat to the Colonial in Pittsfield and the Mahaiwe in Great Barrington by pricing them out of the market for performers who now appear at the Berkshire theaters. Tanglewood and many other local cultural destinations appeal to a different audience but a Springfield casino could put a dent in the Berkshire entertainment market. The casino would provide construction jobs that Berkshire businesses could claim, and once it is built it may provide permanent jobs for Berkshire residents, many of whom commute to the Springfield area, as they do the Albany area, already.
A Springfield casino, along with two other casinos in the eastern end of the state permitted by legislation, would reveal just how much gambling money can be generated in New England. Connecticut's two pioneering casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in southeastern Connecticut, have struggled financially, with Foxwoods in particular seeing big declines in revenue. An argument for Massachusetts casinos has been to keep the gambling money here from going to Connecticut, but casinos that cannibalize local dollars without drawing visitors who leave their money and go home will hurt the local economy, not help it. Gambling money is not unlimited and a Springfield casino not far from the two Connecticut casinos should expose that limit. There are also the high social costs of crime and addiction to address.
Good luck to Springfield as it courts its suitors. It may find that MGM or whoever wins the sweepstakes and starts building won't be paving the streets with gold.