First Casino License In Mass. Could Be Awarded In Mid-June

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Massachusetts' first license for a Las Vegas-style casino could be awarded as soon as mid-June, following four straight days of meetings by state gambling regulators in Boston and Springfield.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission laid out the anticipated timeline at its meeting Thursday. The commission will be in Springfield June 10 and 11; June 12 in Boston and June 13 in Springfield, where the commission aims to approve the award.

The commission's choices are limited: MGM Resorts International's plan for an $800 million casino on nearly 15 acres straddling Springfield's downtown and South End neighborhood is the lone project still in contention for the license, which is reserved for the state's western region. But commission members have been reluctant to rule out the possibility of not issuing an award at this time.

Voters in Massachusetts' third-largest city overwhelmingly approved the MGM project last July as competing plans fell by the wayside. City and business leaders see the project - easily the largest economic development project Springfield has seen in a generation - as a chance to revive the former industrial center, which has among the highest jobless rates in the state.

Commissioners said Thursday they want to give as much time as possible to weigh information provided by staff and the casino about the project, as well as discuss any conditions or stipulations they might want to include in issuing the award.

"Look, this is a major project for a major section of the city with major implications," Commissioner James McHugh said. "We are taking this very seriously, even though there is only one applicant."

This final phase in the more than two-year long licensing process will involve public presentations by each of the five commissioners. Each has been tasked to examine a specific aspect of the casino application. Among those: the project's finances and revenue projections, economic development potential, site design, and impacts to traffic and local services.

McHugh added that the commission could ask MGM officials to elaborate or clarify information discussed during the deliberations. No formal testimony would be taken from the public, however, because the commission held hearings on the proposal earlier this year in Springfield.

One open question is whether the commission accepts MGM's request for a delay in the $85 million licensing fee that comes due if it is awarded the license. The Las Vegas-based casino giant is concerned about the potential for an outright repeal of the state's casino law.

The state's highest court is expected to rule by July on whether or not a voter referendum to repeal the state's 2011 casino law should be allowed on the November ballot. That law authorized the commission to award at least three regional casino licenses - western, eastern and southeastern - and one slot parlor license, which has already been awarded to Penn National Gaming for a project at the Plainridge harness racing track in Plainville.