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Commentary: MGM Must Adjust to Doing Business in Massachusetts

“I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

That was Dorothy’s famous and endlessly requoted (usually incorrectly) comment to her dog, Toto, upon surveying the scene in Oz upon their arrival there.

Mike Mathis hasn’t said ‘I’ve a feeling we’re not in Vegas anymore’ yet (at least not publicly, anyway) but maybe he should, or at least acknowledge that fact.

The president of MGM Springfield certainly needs to do that after what could only be described as a turbulent few weeks during which his company has announced many changes to the planned $800 million casino planned for Springfield’s South End, and announced itself surprised by the reaction.

These changes include plans to scrap a proposed 25-story hotel tower and replace it with a six-story structure designed, the company says, to better fit Springfield’s downtown and make street-level activities part of the experience at MGM Springfield. They also include a 14% reduction in the overall footprint for the project, 90% of which is “back-end” space, according to Mathis.

He made that statement at a press conference Tuesday called about an hour after one staged by Domenic Sarno, at which the Springfield mayor said it was “incomprehensible” that MGM wouldn’t mention that planned reduction in the size of the project at a meeting staged recently to explain the change in plans for the hotel.

An obviously upset Sarno felt blindsided, and let those at MGM know it.

Mathis, meanwhile, at his press conference, said the changes proposed to date are all part of a “tweaking process” that is still very much ongoing. He also said he and other MGM officials didn’t tell the mayor about the 14% reduction in the project’s size because, well, they didn’t see a need to — at least at that time — given where the changes were going to come.

Perhaps, but he has to remember that he’s not in Vegas anymore. He’s in Massachusetts, which is still cutting its teeth in the casino game, and where every bit of news — from the planned changes to the Springfield project to the announcement that revenues at the Plainridge slots parlor are down since its grand opening over the summer — is going to be greeted with surprise, skepticism, and, in the case of the hotel change, a request for a referendum question on the matter from Springfield’s City Council president.

Moving forward, Mathis implied that MGM will strive to be more transparent and communicate better with elected officials when they can.

That’s a good idea, as is the notion of never forgetting that he’s certainly not in Vegas anymore, and responding appropriately.

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