Casino License Race Heats Up With Brimfield Proposal

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MGM's proposed casino location in Brimfield, Thursday (Lynn Jolicoeur for WBUR)
MGM's proposed casino location in Brimfield, Thursday (Lynn Jolicoeur for WBUR)

Another Las Vegas casino company has entered the competition for the state's only casino license in western Massachusetts. MGM Resorts International says it wants to develop a gambling resort in the tiny town of Brimfield, which is known mainly for its antique shows.

"I really think it'll have a very colonial, very New England feel to it — and be very, very different than any resort in Las Vegas."

Jim Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International

The land for the proposed resort is so remote that the only way to get there — at least on a wet, snowy day — is a four-wheel drive. You head down a long, winding dirt road in Brimfield, up and over hills, until you reach a vista. From here, you look out on the 150 acres, aptly described by the working name of the proposed Rolling Hills Resort.

"I envision a very rural themed, rural constructed resort,” said Jim Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International, as well as a Connecticut native. “It'll be low-rise. It'll be low impact. I really think it'll have a very colonial, very New England feel to it — and be very, very different than any resort in Las Vegas."

MGM wants to build a casino here at a cost of at least $600 million. Murren and other executives are in town to begin trying to convince residents and local officials in Brimfield and surrounding towns that theirs is the right casino plan for the western part of the state.

They zeroed in on this piece of land at the invitation of West Brookfield resident Dave Callahan. He's a principal in the realty trust that owns the land and has signed a contract to sell it to MGM. He selected the company from several developers he approached to try to bring a casino here.

Asked why he wants to do this –- besides making a substantial amount of money –- Callahan said, “No. 1, for myself, I'm in the construction business. I'm looking to develop work for the people that work for my company, so we can get up and go to work every day."

MGM estimates the casino would create 3,000 permanent positions and several thousand construction-related jobs. The developers hope some of the construction will involve building a new exit ramp from the Mass Pike into the property, meaning that only emergency vehicles would be able to access the resort from local roads.

"This will ensure that the people driving down Main Street in Brimfield today will be the same people driving down Main Street when the proposed development is up and running,” Callahan said.

That's not enough to convince Anna Ozolins, who settled here 11 years ago.

"It is not an active town, and we love it this way, we really — this is the reason I moved from Jersey,” said Ozolins, who worries about the impact on the local budget and services.

“Even if the MGM does give them — has to give them — tax money, that money’s going to be spent on new people moving in here into a sleepy town,” she predicted.

Tony Bys, a Brimfield resident for 30 years, said he wants to hear out the casino developers.

“You’ve got to weigh the costs and the benefits,” he said. “I wouldn’t go there. I’m not a gambler. I’ve never gone to Foxwoods or any of the other things. But, I mean, you know, it’s going to happen anyway. If Brimfield can benefit from it, great. I’m all in favor of it.”

MGM executives said they've already started what will be a long dialogue with local officials, including police, fire and school departments, about their needs and wants from any casino deal. Murren said they've set up a local office to be available full-time to address residents' questions and concerns.

"We believe philosophically that it is not for us to say what a community should want or not want,” Murren said. “And we've lost some opportunities because some would say we're perhaps not as aggressive as other people, not as audacious and flashy."

They'll have plenty of opportunities to flex whatever muscle and lobbying power they might want to show as they start drafting actual drawings and plans for the site. MGM is competing against several developers, including Mohegan Sun in nearby Palmer, for the one western Massachusetts casino license the state Gaming Commission will grant.

This program aired on January 13, 2012.

Lynn Jolicoeur Producer/Reporter
Lynn Jolicoeur is the field producer for WBUR's All Things Considered. She also reports for the station's various local news broadcasts.



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