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MGM will be named Massachusetts' first casino operator, but the Las Vegas-based gambling giant will not have to immediately pay millions of dollars in state fees and other payments required by law.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission reviewed the casino's $800 million Springfield project nearly two days before the panel agreed in principle Wednesday to issue the license to MGM but delay the payments, pending a decision by the state's Supreme Judicial Court. The court is considering whether a voter referendum to repeal the state's casino law should be allowed on the November ballot.
The commission decision comes after MGM officials suggested new language that would hold off an $85 million state licensing fee, which is due about 30 days after the license is awarded.
Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby said the casino's concern about paying the non-refundable fee was "perfectly reasonable," given the uncertainty around the court case.
"We fully intend to make this award. We're very pleased with the proposal, but we're going to work with (MGM) to accommodate these other eventualities," he said. "These are just business-like accommodations to these realities."
The commission plans to finalize its decision Friday.
MGM Springfield President Michael Mathis said the company, which reported more than $2.6 billion in domestic gambling revenues in 2013, was pleased with the commission's plans. He said the fee delay was important to a deal.
"Many recognize the difficult situation that we're in," he said. "We want to get to work and to get this project going."
The court ruling is expected before July 9. Under the proposed license terms, MGM would pay the licensing fee about eight days afterward if the court decides not to allow the repeal question on the ballot. But if the question is placed on the ballot, the fee would come due only if the repeal referendum is defeated.
To hold a license, the commission also proposed that the casino file reports on construction worker and casino staff hiring and mitigate any interference on downtown Springfield from the massive building project. Mathis said MGM did not object to those terms.
Crosby called MGM's plan a "genuinely ambitious and unusual effort" that could lift the fortunes of one of the most economically struggling regions of the state.
MGM proposes a casino, hotel, shopping and entertainment complex that preserves historic buildings and downtown Main Street's traditional storefront appearance while adding new amenities including a public plaza, cinema and bowling alley.
Crosby said he expects the casino complex will draw tourists from Connecticut and New York who would otherwise patronize Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.
Commissioner Bruce Stebbins said he was impressed with the casino's pledge to create about 2,600 construction jobs and hire about 2,350 full-time workers.