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When the report surfaced on March 21 that MGM Resorts International is exploring the sale of its casino operations at MGM Springfield and Ohio’s Northfield Park, it should not have come as a shock to anyone.

Indeed, rumors about MGM shedding the Springfield property from its portfolio of casino holding have been floating around since … well, since the facility opened its doors in August 2018.

And they have persisted, primarily because the casino has, to put it mildly, underperformed, at least when it comes to the expectations MGM had when it decided Springfield would be a good entry point for the Massachusetts market.

MGM projected that a Springfield casino could reap $34 million in revenues a month. The reality is, it hasn’t come close to that number, with $26 million the first month it opened being the actual high-water mark.

The casino has had to endure a pandemic and increased competition from several points on the compass — and there was already formidable competition not far away in the form of well-established Connecticut casino complexes.

But from day one, when the long lines that were expected to form outside MGM to check out the shining new attraction failed to materialize, it was clear that this facility was not going to perform as hoped, and it was going to become a drain on the parent company, which invested $1 billion in its creation.

That became clear when Bill Horbuckle, MGM CEO, told reporters after meeting local officials last year, “our original valuation of this market simply was off — full stop.”

So what now?

Talks of a sale are in the preliminary stages, and nothing may come of this. If MGM is intent on selling the property, we hope it will be to a responsible party, and maybe even a local party, that can somehow change the trajectory of the property and at least continue to make it a key contributor to the local economy.

From the start, we have said that MGM Springfield was not going to magically change the landscape and transform the Western Mass. economy. But it would be an important addition to the mix and would bring people to the region.

It has done that, to some extent, but it simply hasn’t performed as MGM Resorts expected it would and needs it to.

“The news of MGM exploring the sale of MGM Springfield is both surprising, as they’ve become a fixture in our community, and unsurprising, as the rumors of their fickleness to the site started even before a shovel was in the ground,” state Sen. Adam Gomez said. Other local elected officials have even stated they won’t be sad if and when MGM leaves town.

Not knowing who or what might come next, we won’t go that far.

But we will say that Springfield and this region could certainly do much worse than what MGM has brought to the 413 — and that anything worse would be a serious setback to the South End, Springfield, and the area’s economy.

Almost from the day the casino opened, people have been asking, “what will happen if MGM sells the property?” We may soon be finding out.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — According to a report yesterday in Bloomberg, MGM Resorts International is exploring the sale of its casino operations at MGM Springfield and Ohio’s Northfield Park.

Bloomberg reported that the company is working with financial advisers on potential sales, but the discussions are preliminary and may not result in any action, according to people familiar with the matter who asked to not be identified. A spokesperson for MGM declined to comment on the discussions.

According to the report, MGM’s management has been frustrated with the company’s share price. The stock has climbed less than 5% over the past two years despite growth in sales and profit. MGM won the license to operate in Springfield after Massachusetts authorized casino gambling and opened in 2018.

“Our original valuation of this market simply was off — full stop,” MGM CEO Bill Hornbuckle told reporters after meeting with local officials last year. The property generated $278 million in gambling revenue in 2023.

The real estate at both casinos is owned by New York-based Vici Properties Inc., which declined to comment on the sale talks.

Cover Story

Making His Case

Louie Theros

Louie Theros


Louie Theros is a trial lawyer by trade. In fact, his wife has told him on numerous occasions that she has never seen him happier than when he’s in the courtroom trying a case.

He would agree with that assessment wholeheartedly.

“I loved the strategy of it and sitting down with my colleagues and working themes of cases,” he told BusinessWest. “How we were going to deal with the opposite side’s parries, changes in strategy, and how we had to learn and deal with the jury and get them to like us and our case. I loved everything about it.”

But while he’s energized by the various elements of a courtroom fight, he acknowledged that his current challenge is probably the biggest and most intriguing of his career.

Indeed, Theros has seen his most recent career aspiration come to fruition with his appointment as president and chief operating officer of MGM Springfield, succeeding Chris Kelley, who held that role for four challenge-laden years (he arrived not long before the pandemic descended on the region) before departing at the end of 2023.

Prior to his arrival in Springfield, Theros served MGM as vice president, legal counsel, and assistant secretary at MGM Grand Detroit, and then in those same roles for MGM’s Midwest Group, which also included a casino in Ohio. In those various positions, he said he learned all aspects of the casino business, and especially what he called the “human-resources side,” a natural byproduct of working in employment law for 25 years before joining the casino giant and then continuing that type of work.

“I’ve told people here during my first few weeks that I’m sort of a ‘culture person,’” he said. “I’ve been on the human-resources side my entire career, working with a variety of companies, spanning Fortune 10 corporations to single-person entities, and I’ve learned a lot about the human element. So one of my goals here is to drive culture among employees and between our hourlies and our managers.”

“When we designed this … we didn’t design a glass, Vegas-like place; this fits into the community. Corporate-wise, we really felt the vibe of Springfield, and we really paid a lot of attention to this fitting into the community.”

That’s one of many goals he brings with him to MGM Springfield, where he becomes the third president and COO of that facility. He acknowledged that his predecessors, Mike Mathis and then Kelley, had specific assignments.

Mathis’s was to open the facility — a four-year process that ended in August 2018 — and then put it on solid ground. Kelley was then charged with ramping up, he said, adding that this process was complicated by COVID and then dominated by the introduction of sports gambling.

Generalizing, Theros said his assignment is to build on the foundation that’s been laid and simply try to improve on every aspect of the operation, a long list that includes the gross gambling revenue (GGR) generated at the facility, the entertainment shows at various venues, and the broad impact MGM Springfield has on the surrounding South End area and the region in general.

There are already some items on his to-do list — reactivating the former church that was home to a Kringle Candle outlet but has been vacant for several years, energizing the hotel’s spa, and adding to the entertainment calendar, for example — but mostly, at this early stage, he’s still watching, learning, getting to know the region, and, overall, setting the bar higher for the casino complex.

casino complex

As Louie Theros takes the helm at MGM, he senses growing momentum, both at the casino complex and in Springfield’s South End.
(Photo by Jose Figueroa)

“This should be the best that Springfield has to offer — we have the resources to have the best steakhouse, the best Italian restaurant, the best food court, the best experience for someone who’s looking for something exciting to do on any night of the week,” he said, adding that, in most respects, the casino is already there, and with the others, it’s his job to get it there.

For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Theros about everything from the path he took to Springfield to what he wants to do with this opportunity to oversee his own casino.


Odds Are…

Theros is certainly no stranger to Springfield and its casino. Indeed, he came here during the pandemic to help prepare the facility for its reopening and was also part of the large team that opened the facility five and half years ago.

“I spent two weeks here then,” he said, gaining during that brief stint an appreciation for the property, what it meant to Springfield and the region, and the role it would play in helping to transform that section of the city.

“I’ve always loved this building,” he said, adding that his affection reflects both what the property is and what it isn’t. “When we designed this … we didn’t design a glass, Vegas-like place; this fits into the community. Corporate-wise, we really felt the vibe of Springfield, and we really paid a lot of attention to this fitting into the community.”

Overall, his role is to continually improve that ‘fit,’ and to build on a general sense of momentum at both the casino and the area surrounding it, punctuated by everything from solid GGR numbers to the recent naming of a preferred developer — Chicago-based McCaffrey Interests Inc. — for three properties across Main Street from the casino that have long been vacant or mostly vacant and in most ways eyesores.

Theros, who officially took the helm on Jan. 2, navigated a winding and somewhat unusual path to casino management.

He graduated from Vanderbilt University Law School in 1989, returned to Michigan, where he grew up, and soon thereafter began practicing civil-rights law on the defense side, handling human-resources and labor issues for clients of all sizes, including, eventually, MGM Resorts, which had opened a casino in Detroit in July 1999.

He handled work for the company for several years before joining MGM as one of its in-house lawyers in 2015, eventually becoming vice president, legal counsel, and assistant secretary, first for the Detroit casino and then for the Midwest Group.

Prior to joining MGM, though, he served on the board of the Detroit-based law firm he was with, Butzel Long, getting a taste, as he put it, of operating a large business.

“This was an $80 million to $90 million law firm at that time, and now, it’s much bigger,” he noted. “I really like operations, and I always have.”

Indeed, he said that, from the days he would bus tables for some of the Greek restaurant owners in town who counted his parents as their accountants, he’s always had a fascination for the operational side of companies and knowing and understanding every facet of a business.

“People have put their trust in me to lead this organization and lead this property into the future, and I really feel privileged to do this.”

And this fascination continued with MGM’s Detroit casino, he said, adding that he chose to stick his nose, as he put it, in places generally not frequented by in-house lawyers.

“I was very deliberate in educating myself about all aspects of a casino during my eight-plus years in Detroit,” he told BusinessWest. “I spent a lot of time socializing, whether it was having a cup of coffee with someone from table games or the slots department. And the food and beverage leader and VP of Hospitality were right next door to my office, so I spent a lot of time talking about that aspect of the business.”

And many others as well, he went on, adding that, as he acquired this broad base of knowledge, he arrived at a place where he believed himself ready to lead his own casino. He applied for such a role at MGM’s Ohio facility, and while he didn’t get the job, he said he certainly sharpened his teeth through the lengthy interview process and then “did some more learning.”

And when Kelley, with whom he worked at MGM’s Detroit casino, announced he was leaving his role in Springfield late last year, Theros applied again, and this time won the position. It’s a role, and a challenge, that he embraces.

Springfield’s newest gaming option: sports betting.

One of Louis Theros’s challenges will be to build on MGM Springfield’s newest gaming option: sports betting.

“People have put their trust in me to lead this organization and lead this property into the future, and I really feel privileged to do this,” he said. “I would most likely have run my law firm if I had stayed there, if I had not come to MGM — I was one of the top two or three people running the firm when I was there — and I’ve always felt the desire to lead some organization, and when I got to MGM and learned the business and got more involved in it, a few years in, I said to myself, ‘I know I can do this.’ I’m honored that they picked me to do this.”


Betting on Himself

When asked to informally write his own job description for the president and COO of MGM Springfield, Theros said there are two sides to that equation — internal and external.

With the former, he said his job is to set a positive tone for the staff, something he believes comes naturally. “I’ve always been a ‘set a positive tone at the top’ person,” he said. “And I would never ask my employees to do something I would not do, and I expect my leaders to set that same tone.

“And I want people to feel, as I do, that this is an absolutely fantastic place to work — I love coming to work every day,” he went on. “So, my job is to come in, make sure our employees like coming here and treat everyone with respect, and make sure they have an opportunity, much like I’ve had, to move up in the company.”

On the external side of the equation, he said his job description involves creating an experience for the guest and prompting them to put MGM Springfield top of mind when it comes to gatherings and ways to celebrate occasions and milestones in their lives — or just or a random Saturday evening.

“When they’re thinking of a special event — an anniversary, a birthday party, whatever it is — we want them thinking, ‘we should go to MGM Springfield because it’s a wonderful place to go, we get great service, and we could get great food.’ My job is to deliver that.”

Theros said it’s also his job to get involved in the community, and to inspire others to get involved as well.

Overall, he’s encouraged by what he sees, both at his casino and in the community, citing everything from apparent progress on the properties across Main Street, including the Clocktower Building and the Colonial Block, and the rapid leasing of the apartments in the revitalized former Court Square Hotel (a project MGM has taken part in), which is a source of pride but also some frustration for Theros, who has been looking for a place a live.

“At 31 Elm, they have 74 units; they rented them all in 30 days,” he said. “I couldn’t find a place, even across the street. That’s fantastic; that shows me that the city and the surrounding area are really robust.”

Theros’s personal car didn’t arrive in Springfield until late last month, but he made use of the casino’s limo to visit various communities in the region — and even one of his competitors — while also walking to events ranging from a few Thunderbirds games to Red Sox Winter Weekend at the MassMutual Center.

“At 31 Elm, they have 74 units; they rented them all in 30 days. I couldn’t find a place, even across the street. That’s fantastic; that shows me that the city and the surrounding area is really robust.”

Returning to his casino property and the multi-faceted operation there, Theros said that, to date, he’s mostly been observing and making notes as he compiles a more comprehensive to-do list. He stressed that the operation is maturing and reaching, if not exceeding, many of the expectations the city and region had when the casino opened to considerable fanfare on that hot August day in 2018.

“Chris [Kelley] has gotten us to a nice place; the whole team has,” he told BusinessWest. “My goal, quite simply, is to build on that.”


Bottom Line

When asked what he’d rather be doing — trying a case or managing a casino — Theros paused briefly before answering.

“For pure adrenaline, trying a lawsuit, trying a case in front of a jury — that’s an adrenaline rush,” he said. “When someone high-fives you after you’ve cross-examined someone — I had one of my associates do that — that’s a big rush.

“For personal satisfaction, though, it’s running a casino,” he went on. “I have more direct impact on an outcome here than I do at a trial because the jury is the arbiter at the end of the day.”

Still, he’s hoping to create something approaching those cross-examination rushes at the casino on Main Street as he takes on what he called the “cherry on the top of his career,” and an opportunity to really make a case for MGM Springfield.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — MGM Resorts International announced the appointment of Louie Theros as president and chief operating officer of MGM Springfield, where he will oversee the resort’s daily operations and strategic direction, focused on continued employee engagement and community relations. He succeeds Chris Kelley, who recently announced his decision to pursue a new opportunity closer to family on the West Coast.

“We’re thrilled to have Louie leading the charge at MGM Springfield,” said Steve Zanella, president of MGM Resorts Operations. “Louie brings more than 30 years of leadership, legal, and regulatory experience to the property and has a strong vision to continue to drive growth throughout both the city of Springfield and the larger region.”

Theros has been with MGM Resorts since 2015, most recently serving as vice president, legal counsel, and assistant secretary at MGM Grand Detroit. Prior to joining the company, Theros worked in legal private practice, serving as vice president of Detroit-based law firm Butzel Long, following more than 20 years as a lawyer at Dickenson Wright. He is a graduate of Vanderbilt University Law School and earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan.

“As we begin the new year, I’m excited to continue building on MGM Springfield’s success,” Theros said. “The incredible team at MGM Springfield makes the magic happen for our guests every day, and I’m honored to have the opportunity to work with them. I’m also eager to jump right in and focus on supporting downtown Springfield’s continued development, while creating even stronger connections across the community.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — MGM Springfield is once again bringing summer inside. The popular Free Music Fridays Summer Concert Series on the MGM Springfield Plaza will move into MGM Springfield’s ARIA Ballroom beginning Jan. 26 at 7:30 p.m. Doors will open at 7 p.m.

Kicking off the 2024 indoor series is the Blushing Brides, billed as the original tribute to the Rolling Stones. The lineup also includes ’80s rock and metal band Aquanett, local modern country music fan favorite Trailer Trash, party band Darik and the Funbags, and, closing out the series, the Eagles Experience tribute show.

Beer, wine, mixed drinks, and non-alcoholic beverages will be available during the shows. Guests also can enjoy MGM Springfield’s diverse food and beverage offerings before or after the concerts, with options including the Chandler Steakhouse, Costa, Tap Sports Bar, and South End Market.

For additional details on the Free Music Fridays Concert Series, including lineup updates, click here.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — MGM Springfield will pay more than $6.8 million in restitution and penalties for wage-and-hour law violations at its downtown casino, according to New England Public Media. The settlement comes after a multi-year investigation by the Massachusetts attorney general’s office.

“MGM Springfield’s failure to provide its employees, especially service workers earning an hourly wage and relying on tips, with their full wages and benefits made it more difficult for these employees to take care of themselves and their families,” Attorney General Andrea Campbell said in a statement.

More than 2,000 employees were impacted, the AG’s office said, from table game dealers to kitchen staff. About $460,000 of the settlement will go back to employees as restitution, but most of the settlement money — nearly $6.4 million — will be paid to the state as a fine. The settlement covers violations between August 2018 and the end of 2019.

MGM “neither admits nor denies the allegations” in the settlement agreement. “We take our compliance obligations seriously and have made proactive updates since 2019 to address this issue,” MGM Resorts spokesperson Dara Cohen said in a statement. “We will continue to invest in training and regular reviews of our policies and procedures to ensure ongoing compliance.”

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest has launched a new podcast series, BusinessTalk. Each episode will feature in-depth interviews and discussions with local industry leaders, providing thoughtful perspectives on the Western Massachuetts economy and the many business ventures that keep it running during these challenging times.

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 176: August 28, 2023

BusinessWest Editor Joe Bednar sits down with Chris Kelley, MGM Springfield’s president and COO

Many people vividly remember their excitement when MGM Springfield opened its doors five years ago — as well as the early returns, which didn’t meet the lofty expectations casino proponents had laid out, followed by the pandemic shutdown and, later, a halting return to activity. What people might not realize is that the casino’s last three quarters have been its best, while legal sports betting and an impressive recent slate of music and comedy shows bode well for an even stronger future. On the next installment of BusinessTalk, BusinessWest Editor Joe Bednar sits down with Chris Kelley, MGM Springfield’s president and COO, about rising expectations, how to continually improve the customer experience, the challenge of maintaining a large workforce, and much more. It’s must listening, so tune in to BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest and sponsored by PeoplesBank.

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Cover Story

President Says It’s Been a ‘Journey,’ but Casino Is in a Good Place

President and COO Chris KelleyPhoto courtesy of MGM Springfield

President and COO Chris Kelley
Photo courtesy of MGM Springfield

In most respects, Chris Kelley says, five years isn’t a long time when it comes to the life of a casino.

But as he quickly draws an analogy to an automobile, or an individual, for that matter, he notes that it’s not the years that count, necessarily … it’s the miles.

“And we’ve run a lot of mileage through the odometer,” Kelley, president and COO of MGM Springfield, told BusinessWest.

By that, he meant that the nearly $1 billion facility in the city’s South End has seen and experienced a lot since it opened to considerable fanfare in late August 2018, enough to make it seem as though it has been in operation much longer than five years.

At the top of that list, of course, is the global pandemic that closed the facility’s doors for four agonizing months and also forced a number of operating changes, some of which have actually paid dividends in some respects.

“We had significant changes on our gaming floor in ways that I never would have predicted could have been possible before COVID,” he said. “We have close to 1,000 fewer slot machines than we did when this property opened, yet we’re making significantly more; we have fewer table games, but we’re making significantly more; we have fewer poker tables, but we’re making significantly more.

“So what we have found is that, through COVID, guests really developed a preference for spacing and the way we arrange and offer our amenities,” he went on. “And the end result is a floor that is much less populated than it was before, but it is much more attractive to our guests. We see that with visitation, and obviously we see it on the gaming end as well.”

But there has been evolution beyond the pandemic, he noted, listing everything from huge changes to the competitive landscape, starting with the opening of Encore Boston Harbor and continuing with other additions in neighboring states, to the introduction of sports gambling in the Bay State, to a lingering workforce crisis that currently leaves the casino with 200 open positions, some of which place limitations on which facilities, especially restaurants, can operate, and when.

“We have close to 1,000 fewer slot machines than we did when this property opened, yet we’re making significantly more; we have fewer table games, but we’re making significantly more; we have fewer poker tables, but we’re making significantly more.”

Through all of this — and, again, it adds up to a lot of miles — MGM has emerged after five years in what Kelley described as a fairly good place, while there is still certainly room for improvement.

He notes that the past three quarters have been the best, from a gross gaming revenue (GGR) respect, since the casino opened. Meanwhile, sports betting has brought additional revenue and an intriguing new element to the operation, as well as a good deal of anticipation as a new NFL season begins in less than a month.

On the entertainment side of the equation, the casino continues to build on a solid track record of success, he said, with recent shows featuring Bruno Mars, Carlos Santana, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and a recently announced show presenting Jon Stewart, John Mulaney, and Pete Davidson, set for Sept. 8.

“The MGM Springfield comeback story is alive and well,” Kelley said, noting that this comeback, from the pandemic and everything else, is ongoing. “We have had a pretty extraordinary journey, starting with the parade down Main Street in August 2018; the introduction of a new competitor in Encore Boston Harbor; the closure from the pandemic, something that no one could have anticipated; the impacts from COVID following the closure; the introduction of sports betting; and where we sit now, with record results. At the same time, we’re seeing unprecedented levels of entertainment that we’re bringing into the city, levels that we haven’t seen in decades.

COVID have made MGM more responsive to the wants and needs of members and guests.

Chris Kelley says some of the lessons learned, and changes made, because of COVID have made MGM more responsive to the wants and needs of members and guests.

“We look back with a lot of gratitude and look forward with a lot of optimism,” he went on, adding that, while the current picture is fairly bright, there is ample reason to believe there will be continuous improvement, in part because of the many lessons learned over the past few years. “It has been a journey, and I’m very optimistic as we look ahead.”


Doubling Down

Kelley has nearly three decades of experience in the casino industry. Reflecting on those years, he said he’d never been home on New Year’s Eve before — a huge day in this business — and certainly never expected to be in 2021.

But after casinos were allowed to reopen in July 2020 after a COVID-forced shutdown, there were several restrictions placed on those facilities, most of them without precedent. And one of them of them is that they had to close at 9:30 p.m., even as the world was ushering in a new year.

“In a 24-hour business, I had never experienced a New Year’s Eve at home when the clock struck midnight, but that’s exactly what happened,” he told BusinessWest. “We had to reinvent ourselves.”

Reflections on New Year’s Eve at home, and not on the casino floor, is one of countless elements that contribute to Kelley’s comments about miles on the odometer when it comes to this facility’s first five years of operation. Looking back over those five years, and especially his three and half years at the helm, he said they have been a challenging time, but also a learning experience, with some lessons coming unexpectedly during the pandemic, which was, overall, an experience without precedent in the industry.

“The time period that was most impactful was what we went through during COVID,” he said. “We had our challenges even prior to the closure in March of 2020, but we had no expectation of a long closure when it happened. I don’t think anyone did; we thought this would be a short-term impact, and we wound up being closed for four months.”

During that time, the company decided it would, despite not seeing any revenue whatsoever, continue to make the payments to the city outlined in the host-community agreement inked prior to opening.

“That was the first really challenging decision that we had, and it was very difficult to make,” he recalled. “I’m proud of the fact that we made the right decision, which was to continue those payments without question.”

“We have learned, and we have grown, and we have improved, and we’ve done that to the enhancement of the guest experience.”

When the casino reopened in July, he went on, those at the casino knew it would not be business as usual, and as it made mandated adjustments, especially with regard to social distancing, some key lessons were learned.

Kelley refrained from using the phrase ‘silver linings,’ but said there were certainly some good things that came out of the pandemic and that reinvention process he mentioned earlier.

“Ultimately, that has been a great teacher for us; it has been a great benefit for us as operators,” he explained. “We have learned, and we have grown, and we have improved, and we’ve done that to the enhancement of the guest experience.

“One of the reasons why I think we’re seeing record results now is because we’re focused, first and foremost, on the experience of our guests from the minute that they walk through the door,” he went on. “And we’re using that that as a differentiator against a much larger competitive set; we’re competing against two of the largest properties on the planet in Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun and also against Encore Boston Harbor, with a metro population of 5 million versus the 150,000 we have in Springfield.”

Elaborating, and returning to his thoughts on the benefits of a less-crowded gaming floor, Kelley said the team at MGM Springfield is focused less on the volume of offerings and more on having the “right” products, such as the hugely popular Dragon Link and Lightning Link slots.

“We have a very dynamic floor — we’re bringing in new product all the time,” he said. “And we’ve adjusted the spacing on the banks, so when you sit down at a game now, you have a lot more room, you have a lot more visibility — lines of sight to other games — and people really enjoy that.

“Prior to COVID, a lot of the thought process had been, ‘let’s get as many games, as many tables, as you possibly can in any area of the floor,’” he went on. “What we’ve found is that this is not the most effective use of the space.”

These sentiments, he said, are reflected in GGR figures from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which show total slot and table GGR of $22.2 million in June, $23.35 million for May, $23.7 million for April, $24.1 million for March, and $23.3 million for the short month of February, continuing a solid run for the casino.

Q1 of 2023 was the best quarter the facility has had since it opened, Kelley said, adding quickly that Q4 in 2022 was the second-best quarter, and Q2 of this year was the best second quarter the casino has recorded. “We’re on a run of the three best quarters in our history,” he said, adding that COVID restrictions were in place through Q1 of 2022, meaning that, once those restrictions were lifted, the numbers started to dramatically improve and outperform even those months before Encore Boston Harbor opened.


Odds Are

Moving forward, Kelley believes this run can continue as the casino continues to apply the lessons learned during the pandemic, keep its floor dynamic, market itself aggressively, and create draws to bring guests to the South End facility.

“We do things here that we don’t do anywhere else in the company,” he explained. “Probably the best example is that there is not a Saturday night when we’re not giving a car away; you often see that done on a monthly basis or a quarterly basis — we do it on a weekly basis. So our marketing efforts have become very aggressive and very focused.”

Another element in the recent success formula that will continue is a hard focus on the overall guest experience, personalizing it as much as possible.

MGM’s music and comedy shows

MGM’s music and comedy shows have been a key contributor to vibrancy in Springfield’s downtown, and the casino’s promotions have generated buzz as well.
Staff Photo

“We recognize that we compete against properties that have more hotel rooms, more slot machines, and more restaurants, so the only way we win is by providing a better experience for our guests, a personalized experience that begins when they walk through the door. We have focused our training and our attention on guest service, getting to know our guests, and personalizing their experience when they’re here, and the combination of those three things has been very effective.”

Overall, Kelley said, it takes three to five years for a casino property to “come to life,” as he put it, and reach a certain level of stability. He believes MGM Springfield is at that point, although he quickly noted that the ramping-up process is not done yet.

“I think we’re through a lot of the initial learnings — we packed a lot of life into a short amount of time; we learned a lot, and we’ve changed a lot,” he noted. “That said, particularly in the post-COVID environment, I don’t think you ever stop ramping, and by that I mean that we’ve learned the impact and the importance of a dynamic operating model and bringing continuous improvement into the daily operation in a meaningful way.

“When I think of ramping, I think of making positive change tomorrow that positively impacts the guest experience,” he went on. “From that sense, I don’t think we’re done with by a long shot. This is a property that has not seen its best day, and it’s up to us to continue to change in positive ways to realize that.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge moving forward when it comes to continuous improvement is on the labor front, Kelley said, noting that those 200 openings he mentioned earlier are about three or four times what the number would be in what would be considered a normal labor market.

“And this does impact what we can offer and when we can offer it,” he told BusinessWest, noting that this is especially true with food and beverage operations, which are particularly vulnerable when positions go unfilled or when existing employees call in sick, leaving teams short-handed.

“Our restaurants are all open, but not every restaurant is open every day of the week,” he said, adding that this is not uncommon within the industry and a situation certainly exacerbated by the ongoing workforce issues.

As for sports gambling, he said there is not enough hard data to gauge its overall impact on operations and revenues, but anecdotally, he said it is certainly having an impact, especially when it comes to bringing new life to what had been a quiet corner of the casino floor, where a multi-million-dollar sports lounge has been created.

Kelley noted that, while the majority of sports wagers are made on mobile apps, the lounge has become a destination for Super Bowl Sunday, March Madness, the Kentucky Derby, and other prominent sporting events.

“That place just blows up when you have a big game,” he said, adding that he is looking forward to the first full NFL season since sports gaming was introduced, noting that pro football is hugely popular, not only from a fan perspective, but a gaming perspective as well.

Time will tell how that NFL season impacts the sports lounge … and whether the casino can continue what those who gamble would call a hot streak.

But Kelley is certainly optimistic. As he said, it’s been a journey, one in which many miles were put on the odometer. But the road ahead would seem to be clear, and with fewer hills to climb.





It’s been five years since MGM Springfield opened its doors amid considerable pomp, circumstance, and rides in a Rolls-Royce down Main Street.

There are times when it seems like those five years have flown by. Most of the time, though, it seems like it’s been much more than five years; a global pandemic that reached this region only 18 months after the casino opened its doors and closed the facility for several agonizing weeks will do that.

In any case, five years is a good time to take stock and assess what the casino era has brought to Springfield and the surrounding region — and what it hasn’t — and to gauge what we can and should expect moving forward.

Starting just a few hours after it opened, when it was clear that opening-day crowds simply were not going to be what officials at MGM had hoped and expected they would be, the casino era has been about adjusting expectations. And they needed adjusting because they were unrealistic to begin with — when it comes to everything from visitation to gaming revenues (although they have been better of late); from employment numbers to the manner in which we thought MGM was going to provide a real boost to the tourism industry.

Why those expectations were so high is a matter of conjecture. In part, it’s because of what we were told. But another part is what we wanted to believe. In short, we thought MGM was going to be … here comes that phrase: a game changer.

Five years later, it’s clear that the nearly $1 billion development has not been a game changer and probably won’t be. But it has been, and will continue to be, we believe, a solid and important addition to the region’s business community and its tourism and hospitality sector.

MGM simply hasn’t brought a lot more people to Western Mass. — except to visit the casino for several hours, get back in the car, and then go back to where they came from. In that respect, there hasn’t been much of the trickle-down effect that most of us expected.

The notable exception, as we’ve seen this spring and summer, has been the music and comedy shows that have brought good crowds and become a real boon for restaurants and clubs in the downtown area.

Beyond this, the casino has not had much of an impact on downtown or the tourism industry and individual attractions such as the Basketball Hall of Fame. Nor has it had much, if any, impact on economic development in the area around the casino. Indeed, beyond a new CVS and a Wahlburger’s on Main Street, there hasn’t been any new development that can be tied to the casino.

That’s not to say the casino hasn’t contributed to progress in Springfield; it has pumped money into Union Station, for example, and been a key player in the long-awaited revitalization of the former Court Square Hotel as well.

Moving forward, we expect that MGM will continue to be what it has been: a key contributor to the local economy and an important part of the proverbial big picture. But not a real game changer.


Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council (EDC) and MGM Springfield are collaborating to host a networking event on Tuesday, May 23 from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Aria Ballroom of MGM Springfield.

The event is designed to provide support to local vendors, including minority-owned, women-owned, LGBTQ+-owned, and veteran-owned businesses. The goal is to bring regional anchor institutions and local vendors that provide goods and services together. Vendors will have the opportunity to meet directly with the MGM Springfield sourcing team and learn about future vendor contracts. Support will be available to prepare and scale potential vendors for contracts.

The event is influenced by the Western Massachusetts Anchor Collaborative (WMAC), which provides comprehensive, systemic, and locally led solutions to regional women- and minority-owned businesses (MWBE) and workforce challenges. The EDC and MGM Springfield hope to enhance their impact and drive regional economic equity and financial vitality for their communities by connecting stakeholders in the region. This is done through networking events and assistance in cultivating a resilient local supplier pipeline. Attendees and vendors can register for the event by clicking here.

Representatives from the Center for Women Enterprises, the Greater New England Minority Supplier Development Council Inc., and the Massachusetts Supplier Diversity Office will speak at the event and provide guidance and information regarding available resources and vendor-certification opportunities.

“We are strengthening the relationships between large anchor institutions and local vendors, creating a more resilient and connected economy in Western Massachusetts,” said Rick Sullivan, president and CEO of the Western Massachusetts EDC. “The upcoming supplier networking event is a key part of this effort, providing an opportunity for local businesses of all backgrounds to connect with MGM Springfield and learn about upcoming contracts and, more importantly, making that direct connection with leaders from MGM Springfield and partnering organizations.”

Arlen Carballo, MGM Springfield’s vice president of Finance Operations, added that “MGM Springfield is thrilled to partner with the EDC to bring local vendors and members of our sourcing team together. This event is part of our continued commitment to advance diversity and inclusion in all aspects of our business, paving the way for positive economic impact in our community.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Summer in New England comes early this year as live music returns to MGM Springfield with the new and expanded Free Music Fridays concert series. Every Friday from May 26 to Sept. 8, some of the area’s most popular bands and national artists will perform on the Plaza at MGM Springfield in the city’s South End, starting at 7:30 p.m. (weather permitting).

Kicking off the 2023 series is the popular Pink Floyd tribute band Brain Damage. Additional local favorites such as Trailer Trash, Brass Attack, Back in Black, and Aquanett, among others, are scheduled to perform throughout the summer. MGM Springfield will also welcome new additions to the Free Music Fridays lineup, including local light Brynn Cartelli, season 14 winner of The Voice. Also debuting on the Plaza stage is Zac Brown tribute band Zac N’Fried; Springfield based R&B, soul, and hip-hop group Malado!; and national pop and hip-hop band LFO.

“MGM Springfield is thrilled to welcome guests and the community back to the Plaza starting even earlier this season, to enjoy free live music under the stars,” said Chris Kelley, MGM Springfield president and chief operating officer. “Based on the incredible success of last summer, we have expanded the lineup and will kick off just before Memorial Day. Many local fan favorites will be back, and we are excited to announce the addition of nationally known artists who will take the Plaza stage for the first time.”

MGM Springfield will continue its partnership with White Lion Brewing Co. to provide guests with a wide selection of craft beer during each Free Music Fridays concert.

“MGM Springfield is a local community collaborator and partner that continuously bridges the gap between small business and vendor opportunity,” said Ray Berry, White Lion president and general manager. “It is their commitment to the region that affords companies like White Lion the ability to align itself with a global company and brand. We look forward to continuing our partnership and offering local artisan beverages on the Plaza of MGM Springfield during Free Music Fridays.”

The series will also feature local food trucks, including North Elm Butchers Block, Batch Ice Cream, Cousins Maine Lobster, Las Kangris, and many more.

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest has launched a new podcast series, BusinessTalk. Each episode will feature in-depth interviews and discussions with local industry leaders, providing thoughtful perspectives on the Western Massachuetts economy and the many business ventures that keep it running during these challenging times.

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 156: April 3, 2023

George Interviews Robert Westerfield, vice president of Casino Operations at MGM Springfield

The sports betting era has begun in Massachusetts, and it’s off to a fast and intriguing start. On the next installment of BusinessTalk, Robert Westerfield, vice president of Casino Operations at MGM Springfield, talks with BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien about sports betting, March Madness, and what to expect moving forward. It’s must listening, so tune in to BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest and sponsored by PeoplesBank.


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SPRINGFIELD — MGM Springfield announced the reopening of Indian Motorcycle 1901 on Thursday, March 16 at 11:30 a.m. With front doors located on the MGM Springfield Plaza, the store will feature a variety of merchandise from the iconic Springfield-born pioneers of the American motorcycle industry. For the first time, the venue will also sell items from the Springfield Thunderbirds.

Attending the reopening will be MGM Springfield President and Chief Operating Officer Chris Kelley; Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno; Springfield Thunderbirds President Nate Costa, co-owner Paul Picknelly, and mascot Boomer; and other VIP guests.

Daily News

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Gaming Commission reported that, during the month of January, MGM Springfield, Encore Boston Harbor, and Plainridge Park Casino generated approximately $96.9 million in gross gaming revenue (GGR).

MGM Springfield generated $22,853,749 of that: $18,452,254 from slots and $4,401,494 from table games. Those figures generated $5,713,437 in taxes.

Additionally, each property launched sports wagering on Jan. 31. Approximately $65,706 in gross sports wagering revenue was generated at MGM and Planridge for the month of January, which consisted of one day of operations. Encore reported losses of $75,230.

To date, the Commonwealth has collected approximately $1.317 billion in total taxes and assessments from the three casino operations since their openings.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Tuesday morning at 10 a.m., the state’s first legal sports wager was placed at the BetMGM Sportsbook & Lounge by Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, along with Boston hockey legend Ray Bourque.

“The BetMGM Sportsbook at MGM Springfield is a phenomenal sports-betting hub designed for New England’s passionate sports fans,” BetMGM CEO Adam Greenblatt said. “Today is a monumental step for BetMGM and sets the stage for us to deliver a best-in-class sports-wagering experience across Massachusetts.”

Betting lines are displayed on large screens at MGM Springfield.

The BetMGM Sportsbook & Lounge at MGM Springfield offers a state-of-the-art gameday experience. The space features a 45-foot, LED viewing wall and four betting windows, making it easy for guests to access a variety of sports-wagering options. Additionally, the resort houses 18 sports-betting kiosks conveniently located throughout the gaming area.

“This has been a long time coming and brings yet another chapter of innovation to enhance the operations and development at MGM Springfield,” Sarno said.

Chris Kelley, president and chief operating officer for MGM Resorts’ Northeast Group, added that “we’re thrilled to add this new amenity, strengthening our commitment to being New England’s premier entertainment and gaming destination. We are incredibly grateful for the tireless work of the state delegation to bring this historic bill to the finish line, and to the MGC [Massachusetts Gaming Commission] for crafting the necessary regulations. The BetMGM Sportsbook at MGM Springfield allows us to create even more one-of-a-kind engagements for our guests while generating tax revenue and job opportunities for our community.”

State Sen. Adam Gomez noted that “BetMGM will bolster our economy locally and statewide. It’s a momentous occasion to have some of the first wagers on sports betting take place in Springfield today.”

State Rep. Carlos Gonzalez added that “today reaffirms our collective support to pass legislation for sports betting. It will bring more visitors to Springfield’s MGM, create jobs, and generate $20 million to $30 million in revenue to Massachusetts.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Massachusetts’ three casinos will begin taking sports bets today at 10 a.m., six months after the state Legislature legalized sports betting in in the Commonwealth.

Some big names are expected to be on hand at the state’s casinos Tuesday to place their bets, including Johnny Damon, Cedric Maxwell, Matt Light, and Julian Edelman at Encore Boston Harbor; Rob Ninkovich at Plainridge Park Casino; and Ray Bourque at MGM Springfield.

MGM Springfield is also touting its 4,586-square-foot sports-wagering lounge with stadium seating, a 45-foot viewing wall, an enclosed wagering counter, and space for wagering kiosks.

Sports betting is expected to bring in about $50 million in annual revenue to the Bay State. Mobile sports betting, allowing people to use apps on their smartphones, is the next phase, but no date has been given for when that will begin.

Daily News

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Gaming Commission reported that, during the month of December, MGM Springfield, Encore Boston Harbor, and Plainridge Park Casino generated approximately $103 million in gross gaming revenue (GGR).

MGM generated $22.5 million of that total: $17.6 million from slots and $4.8 million from table games, paying $5.6 million of that in taxes to the state. The three casinos combined to pay $28.8 million in taxes in December. To date, the Commonwealth has collected approximately $1.29 billion in total taxes and assessments from MGM, Encore, and Plainridge Park since the respective openings of each gaming facility.




Springfield officials went public recently with their frustration with MGM and what they consider to be poor performance when it comes to everything that was promised to the city and the region by the gaming giant.

It is their hope that these calls will spur some action to bring the operation on Main Street much closer to what was promised in terms of hiring projections, restaurants and the hours they’re open, vacant facilities and storefronts, and more.

While we believe these calls — and they are both literal and figurative in nature — should have come months ago because the problems are not exactly recent, we’re glad they are finally being made.

Indeed, what we’re seeing on Main Street is certainly not what was first promised going back nearly eight years ago when MGM was in contention for the sole Western Mass. casino license. And while the pandemic and the ongoing workforce crisis has certainly made keeping those promises much more difficult, MGM has an obligation to Springfield and this region to do better and do more.

Let’s start with what was promised. And let’s put aside hiring projections for a moment because, like gaming revenues, these numbers were always overly optimistic and probably not to be believed anyway.

What was promised was a first-class, inside-out casino with slots, table games, restaurants, shops, and things to do — an experience for those who ventured to the complex on Main Street. Four years and five months after the doors opened to great fanfare, the experience is far from what was promised or anticipated.

Some of the shops, including the Kringle Candle Emporium located in a church that was famously moved to make way for the casino, have closed, and no replacements have been found. The Chandler Steakhouse is open only on weekends, as are the bowling alleys. Meanwhile, the Main Street entrance to the casino has been closed most of the time, making this far less the inside-out facility that was promised.

As for hiring, particularly the hiring of certain segments of the population, from women to minorities, MGM has been lagging behind what was promised here as well.

Granted, the landscape has changed considerably since MGM opened its doors in late August 2018. The pandemic forced the facility to close for several months, and when it did reopen, there were a host of new conditions that had to be met. Meanwhile, the workforce landscape has changed considerably as well, and the broad hospitality sector has been especially hard hit; there are many restaurants that are now closed a few days a week, and many have had to cut back on what they can offer.

Still, MGM can do better — and it must do better. City officials are a little late with their list of complaints and calls for improvements, but they are certainly right to demand improvement from the casino giant. MGM Springfield was supposed to be a game changer for the city and region, and thus far it has not lived up to those expectations.

The city must do more than demand meetings with MGM’s CEO. They need to demand accountability and stay on the casino operators until they bring this operation far closer to what was promised than what we can see — and not see — today.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — MGM Springfield and its online sportsbook, BetMGM, both received approval Monday for sports betting in Massachusetts, when the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) voted 5-0 to approve the casino’s retail application.

Last week, the MGC voted to award a mobile-betting license to WynnBET, allowing it to partner with Encore Boston Harbor, which received the first in-person sports-betting license in the Commonwealth.

The approval comes despite concerns among Springfield leaders that MGM has fallen far short of fulfilling its promises of jobs and economic development, and among commissioners about a lawsuit against MGM over its employment diversity practices.

“Thank you to the entire commission,” MGM Springfield President Chris Kelley said. “We recognize that this is a multi-step process. But this is a very important step forward for our entire team at MGM Springfield, and so we thank you. And we appreciate the thoughtful and deliberate approach that the commission has taken. And I have to say we are extraordinarily excited about, in the not-too-distant future, transitioning an extraordinary sports lounge into a sportsbook.”

The Springfield casino has built a 4,586-square-foot sports-wagering lounge with stadium seating, a 45-foot viewing wall, and an enclosed wagering counter and space for wagering kiosks. There will be betting windows and betting kiosks in the sportsbook area, as well as other betting kiosks spread around the main gaming floor and in the casino’s high-limits area.

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest has launched a new podcast series, BusinessTalk. Each episode will feature in-depth interviews and discussions with local industry leaders, providing thoughtful perspectives on the Western Massachuetts economy and the many business ventures that keep it running during these challenging times.

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 141: December 19, 2022

George Interviews Mike Fenton, Springfield city councilor and chairman of the city’s Casino Oversight Committee

Michael A. Fenton, Esq.

BusinessWest editor George O’Brien has a lively discussion with Mike Fenton, Springfield city councilor and chairman of the city’s Casino Oversight Committee. The two talk about recently voiced concerns about MGM Springfield not delivering what was promised when it was granted a gaming license, and what actions are expected from the parent company in the weeks and months ahead to improve the picture on Main Street. It’s all must listening, so tune in to BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest in partnership with Living Local 413 and sponsored by PeoplesBank.

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SPRINGFIELD — Chelan Brown, former diversity manager at MGM Springfield, filed a discrimination lawsuit last week alleging that senior management, including then-President Michael Mathis, racially discriminated against her and pressured her to submit falsified reports on the company’s diversity hiring practices to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC), among other allegations.

According to casino.org, MGM Springfield originally tasked Brown with ensuring that the construction workforce hired to build the $960 million facility was diverse and satisfied state requirements. The casino opened in August 2018.

The MGC gave MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor ambitious diversity hiring goals. During construction, the MGC said each casino should strive to contract at least 10% of the overall construction work with women-owned businesses. At least 2% of the vendor contracts were additionally to go to veteran-owned entities.

Upon opening, the MGC said minorities and women should account for at least half of MGM Springfield’s total workforce. The numbers reported by MGM Resorts to the MGC during construction and the casino’s opening outpaced those minimums. But Brown claims many of those statistics weren’t accurate.

In a lawsuit naming MGM Springfield and Mathis, as defendants, Brown alleges that she was forced to fudge the casino’s diversity numbers. When she eventually refused to further relay fabricated numbers, Brown alleges she was demoted to a lesser position with longer hours and less pay, which eventually resulted in her termination.

MGM Resorts and the MGC both acknowledged Brown’s lawsuit, but said the organizations had no immediate public comment.

Brown is seeking financial damages for allegedly being racially discriminated against and retaliated against by MGM management, breach of conduct, failure to deliver on promises of employment, and attempts to force an employee to submit fraudulent documents.

Brown, who has since gone on to work with Behavioral Health Network, said she was repeatedly harassed by Mathis while the two worked at MGM Springfield. Mathis stepped down from his position in January 2020, just two months after Brown was fired.

Brown alleges in her legal complaint that Mathis forced her to overstate employment statistics for many of the contractors MGM Springfield hired during construction. When she told Mathis she didn’t feel comfortable reporting the diversity metrics to the MGC, “President Mathis stated angrily that he would present the numbers to the MGC and ordered the team to ‘report the numbers this way,’ meaning inaccurately,” Brown’s lawsuit asserts.

Brown claims Mathis retaliated against her by demoting her to a conference services position, an area in which she had no prior experience. She took the job anyway, as it was the only option afforded to her after Mathis said she wouldn’t be retained as diversity manager. The conference services role came with a pay package that was 6.34% less than her diversity management role.

Brown’s lawsuit also alleges that she was forced to routinely attend corporate events where Mathis and other MGM executives overconsumed alcohol. “Senior levels of the organization began acting like they were in charge of a fraternity house and not a responsible organization,” Brown’s attorneys allege.

Cover Story

At the Goal Line

With 35 other states having done so already, Massachusetts lawmakers were eager to pass a bill this summer legalizing sports betting, and Gov. Charlie Baker followed suit, signing it into law. Now comes the hard work by the Gaming Commission to establish a framework and scores of regulations — and the continuing research into a recreational activity that brings a still-uncertain level of economic benefit, alongside some well-established social risks.

The MGM Sports Lounge

The MGM Sports Lounge was designed to enhance the sports viewing — and eventually gambling — experience.

Rachel Volberg has been researching the effects of gambling for almost four decades, and since 2013, she’s been doing it at the behest of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC), which selected her team a decade ago to research the potential impacts of casinos.

“We’ve kept a pretty careful eye on things, but only a few U.S. states have any funding in their legislation to conduct research, so we know surprisingly little about the social and economic impacts of betting in the United States as a whole,” she told BusinessWest, and that’s even more true when it comes to legalized sports betting, which Massachusetts recently became the 36th state to legalize.

A research professor in the UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences, for the past decade Volberg has been the principal investigator with Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts (SEIGMA), whose latest report — the first of its kind in the nation — deals with the potential impact of legal sports gambling in the Bay State. And if the picture is still uncertain, it’s coming into focus.

“I think the biggest surprise for us was how little research had actually been done, particularly on the economic impacts — what does the industry look like once you legalize it, once it’s operational? What kinds of jobs, what kinds of revenues, and how are those jobs translating into economic benefits? There were literally only two or three economic studies we were able to identify, so there’s clearly a lot of work to be done in that area.”

What is emerging may not thrill proponents of sports gambling who support legalization on economic grounds. The study contends that direct economic impacts will depend on shifting spending from the illegal to legal market, and the impacts will not be entirely new since the majority of these already occur due to the illegal market. In addition, sports betting will primarily redistribute money already in the economy rather than attracting new money from outside Massachusetts.

“Sports betting is, by far, the number-one question I get asked on a daily basis, and it has been for years now. The entire team is looking forward to welcoming the first bet. When the time comes, we’ll be ready.”

“When you compare the tax revenue we anticipate being generated in Massachusetts by sports betting, the optimistic scenario is $60 million a year,” Volberg said, “which is not very large compared to the lottery, which in 2019 generated $1.1 billion in tax revenue, or casinos, which in 2019 generated about $168 million.”

That’s not nothing, of course, and state lawmakers overwhelmingly supported the bill to bring sports gambling out into the open, as did Gov. Charlie Baker, who signed the bill into law shortly after. It was the culmination of momentum that had been building since sports betting was legalized by a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2018. Area legislators pointed out that, with every state in the Northeast having followed suit, Massachusetts was losing money to its neighbors.

“Legalizing sports wagering in Massachusetts will allow us to finally compete with neighboring states and will bring in new revenue and immense economic benefits,” state Sen. John Velis said in August.

The bill allows for 15 online licenses for companies like DraftKings and FanDuel, in addition to five retail licenses for the three casinos and two racetracks in Massachusetts. The bill also creates a commission to study additional licenses for smaller businesses, such as bars and restaurants.

The bill includes out-of-state collegiate betting but does not allow bets on Massachusetts college teams unless they are in the playoffs. The bill also includes a 20% tax on mobile bets and a 15% tax on retail bets, which would be paid by the operating company.

Rachel Volberg

Rachel Volberg

“At this point, the most optimistic scenario for sports betting tax revenues in Massachusetts is about $60 million, and that’s assuming the legal operators are able to capture the great majority of the legal market. It also assumes it will attract people who haven’t bet on sports before there was a legitimate, legal provider.”

“Sports betting is, by far, the number-one question I get asked on a daily basis, and it has been for years now,” said Chris Kelley, president and chief operating officer of MGM Springfield, which built two sports viewing lounges last year partly in anticipation of legal sports betting (more on those later). “The entire team is looking forward to welcoming the first bet. When the time comes, we’ll be ready.”


Devil’s in the Details

With the legislation now law, the MGC will work out the details that will make legal sports betting a reality. It has already come up with a list of about 225 regulations that will need to be drafted.

“A great deal of work has already been done by our team in anticipation of sports wagering becoming legal in Massachusetts,” Gaming Commission Executive Director Karen Wells said last month. “This includes identifying over 200 potential regulations, adopting a framework to utilize industry-recognized technical standards, establishing an infrastructure to investigate and license applicants, initiating the hiring of a chief of Sports Wagering, and scheduling public meetings. Now that we have a law that defines our responsibilities as regulator, we will work with our stakeholders to swiftly stand up this new industry with a focus on integrity, player safety, and consumer protection.”

They’ll take a hard look at SEIGMA’s report in crafting that framework and its many elements, Gaming Commission Chair Cathy Judd-Stein said, noting that “this report will aid the MGC as we begin to regulate a sports-wagering industry in the Commonwealth with an uncompromising focus on integrity and player safety.”

Volberg added that “we were trying to give a very broad overview of what is known at this point about the social and economic impact of sports betting, and it’s the first nationwide effort to do that. It also summarizes what we know about sports betting in Massachusetts.”

She told BusinessWest that the ‘handle’ — a term that refers to all money bet, including rewagered winnings, creating a high level of churn — is not the same as the total revenue taken in by operators.

“It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that sports betting is run on very narrow margins, so the actual revenues the operator is able to generate are a very small number of what the handle numbers are,” she explained. “At this point, the most optimistic scenario for sports betting tax revenues in Massachusetts is about $60 million, and that’s assuming the legal operators are able to capture the great majority of the legal market. It also assumes it will attract people who haven’t bet on sports before there was a legitimate, legal provider.”

Because so little information about the impacts of sports betting is available, Volberg’s team mined data from their own surveys and studies that are part of the research ordered by the Massachusetts Legislature when lawmakers passed the Expanded Gaming Act in 2011. Meanwhile, a representative survey of 8,000 adults was completed in Massachusetts earlier this year and provides a snapshot of changes in gambling behavior, attitude, and problem-gambling prevalence since 2013-14.

“The National Council on Problem Gambling has seen a significant increase in sports-betting participation since 2018,” she told BusinessWest, noting that it has also reported an increase in people saying they had experiences with one or more impacts or harms.

“That suggests that an increase in sports betting has the potential to come with increased harm, which is not a surprise, but in Massachusetts, because the Gaming Commission already has familiarity with implementing measures to try to minimize and mitigate harm — because they already have that experience with casinos — we’re hopeful those harms can in fact be minimized,” Volberg added.

Cathy Judd-Stein

Cathy Judd-Stein

“This report will aid the MGC as we begin to regulate a sports-wagering industry in the Commonwealth with an uncompromising focus on integrity and player safety.”

Alisha Khoury-Boucher, a clinical supervisor at MiraVista Behavioral Health Center, agreed to an extent. “Gambling has been a concern for a long time, but we already have a casino close by, so we don’t see a major change with the people we serve from legalizing sports gambling; if they wanted to do those things, they were already doing those things. It’s the behavior more than the access.”

Still, she added, “in my opinion, where we may see more of a problem is with young people, college-age people, who may still be home with mom and dad and have more disposable income. We might see an increase there, but that’s to be determined.”

“Any time a new entertainment is starting up, it’s always going to be advertised toward young people,” Khoury-Boucher said, citing vaping as one example. “They weren’t looking for middle-aged people who’d been smoking for 25 years; they were looking at mid- to late adolescents. It’s kind of the same thing with sports gambling. If you’re a sports fan, you’re seeing advertising that looks like the old beer commercials — everyone’s happy, it’s exciting, it’s flashy. They’re targeting young people, and that’s potentially a problem.”

Indeed, SEIGMA’s study notes that sports betting occurs in all demographic groups but appeals most to young, well-educated men. It adds that problem gambling is higher among sports bettors primarily because they tend to be involved with a large number of other gambling activities, so legalizing sports betting in Massachusetts has the potential to increase rates of gambling harm and problem gambling.

To mitigate those concerns, SEIGMA is advising the Gaming Commission to require operators to provide player data to the MGC on a regular basis and to cooperate with researchers; to prohibit live, in-game sports betting, which is disproportionately utilized by problem gamblers; and to restrict advertising and celebrity endorsements, which tend to promote sports betting in young people, precipitate relapse in recovered gamblers, and counteract the effectiveness of messages advocating limited, lower-risk involvement.

Volberg noted that only four states have funded any kind of research about sports betting, while 12 have provided funding for problem-gambling services. This contrasts with Massachusetts, where 9% of the tax revenue raised from sports betting will go into the Public Health Trust Fund that supports research and services to mitigate gambling-related harms.

“We are in a unique position in Massachusetts to be able to monitor the impacts of sports betting as it becomes legal and make adjustments to its provision so as to maximize the benefits and minimize the harms.”


Sit Back and Watch

Those benefits, as noted, are uncertain, but operators are excited about the prospects.

For maximum economic impact, SEIGMA’s report recommends issuing licenses for online operators, and a variety of them, since most sports betting is done online. That lines up with the Gaming Commission’s plans.

“While it is likely that sports-book operators, including land-based and online operators, will benefit from sports-betting legalization in Massachusetts,” the study notes, “it is difficult to predict whether sports bettors will add legal sports betting to their repertoire or simply substitute betting on sports for spending on other types of gambling.”

Still, as the leader of the only casino in Western Mass., Kelley sees potential benefits not just for his facility, but for the region itself.

“Massachusetts residents are already driving across the border to Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and New York to place bets. Keeping the millions of tax dollars generated annually by sports wagering in the Commonwealth is a big deal,” he told BusinessWest. In addition, “sports betting at MGM Springfield will bring more foot traffic and visitors to downtown Springfield. We are thrilled at the prospect of not only having more people come and enjoy our property, but to experience all of the amazing businesses nearby.”

To enhance the viewing and gambling experience, the MGM Sports Lounge opened in August 2021, featuring more than 70 lounge seats and a 45-foot state-of-the-art HD viewing wall, inviting fans to watch multiple sporting events at once. A new VIP Sports Lounge also opened last August within TAP Sports Bar, offering a more intimate experience, including a state-of-the-art HD viewing wall.

“As a New England sports fan, I can tell you the MGM Springfield Sports Lounge is the best spot to watch the Patriots, the Red Sox, the Celtics, the Bruins, you name it,” Kelley said. “It’s also just a great place to gather with your friends for a fun night out. As soon as we get the green light, we are ready to incorporate the BetMGM platform into our property.”

Yes, the green light — it’s what many in the gaming industry in Massachusetts have been anticipating for a long time, hoping the benefits of legal sports betting exceed early projections — and outweigh the potential harms.


Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]


Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Massachusetts Gaming Commission reported that the month of August at MGM Springfield, Plainridge Park Casino, and Encore Boston Harbor generated approximately $92 million in gross gaming revenue (GGR).

MGM Springfield generated $4,474,746.40 from table games and $17,518,085.09 from slots for a total of $21,992,831.49, generating $5,498,207.87 in taxes.

MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor, category-1 resort casinos, are taxed on 25% of GGR; those monies are allocated to several specific state funds as determined by the gaming statute. Plainridge Park, a category-2 slots facility, is taxed on 49% of GGR. Of that total taxed amount, 82% is paid to local aid and 18% is allotted to the Race Horse Development Fund.

To date, the Commonwealth has collected approximately $1.181 billion in total taxes and assessments from MGM, Plainridge Park, and Encore since the respective openings of each gaming facility.

Daily News


SPRINGFIELD MGM Springfield and the Mass. Convention Center Authority announced that MGM Springfield has been awarded the venue-management contract for the continued management of the MassMutual Center. 

Beginning July 1, the new contract awards a seven-year term, plus the option to extend for an additional three years.   

The Mass. Convention Center Authority held its monthly board meeting on April 21, and part of the agenda was the selection of management for the MassMutual Center for the next 10 years. By a unanimous ‘yes’ vote, the board selected MGM Springfield as its management partner. 

MGM Springfield initially assumed management for the MassMutual Center on July 1, 2017, and since that time, the MassMutual Center has hosted more than 730 events that have attracted more than 1 million people to the Greater Springfield area, despite the impacts of COVID-19. MGM Springfield has been able to expand the quantity and quality of world-class entertainment and events, as well as the number of major meetings and conventions including: AHL All-Star Classic, Slayer, Aerosmith, Bill Burr, John Mulaney, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement, Cher, Stevie Wonder, Red Sox Winter Weekend, for King & Country, Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, World Quilt New England, Massachusetts Association of Realtors, New England Fence Association, Massachusetts Teachers Association Annual Meetings, Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership Lean Conference, New England Library Association, Yankee Security Convention, New England Regional Volleyball Association, and many more. 

The MassMutual Center is also home to the Springfield Thunderbirds and the American International College’s Men’s Hockey team, the Yellow Jackets. 

“We are thrilled with this decision,” said Sean Dolan, general manager of the MassMutual Center. “Our staff is the best in the business, and this gives us an opportunity to expand on our operational excellence, guest services, community involvement, diversity initiatives, public safety features, and our investment and partnership with the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau.” 

Said Chris Kelley, MGM Springfield President & COO, “We’re incredibly proud to continue our relationship with the MassMutual Center and MCCA. The venue is an integral part of our region, having served as Springfield’s premier event space for nearly two decades. We look forward to bringing more world-class experiences for years to come.” 

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest, in partnership with Living Local, has launched a new podcast series, BusinessTalk. Each episode will feature in-depth interviews and discussions with local industry leaders, providing thoughtful perspectives on the Western Massachuetts economy and the many business ventures that keep it running during these challenging times.

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 100: February 14, 2022

George Interviews Beth Ward, director of Community Affairs at MGM Springfield

BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien has a lively, wide-ranging discussion with  Beth Ward, director of Community Affairs at MGM Springfield. The two talk everything from the Valentine’s Day menu (5-pound lobster), to the prospects for sports gambling, to MGM Springfield’s steady climb back to something approaching normalcy after two years of pandemic. It’s all must listening, so join us on BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest in partnership with Living Local and sponsored by PeoplesBank.




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Daily News


SPRINGFIELD — MGM Springfield will ring in the holiday season on Nov. 26 with its annual tree lighting ceremony to mark the opening of its Holiday Winter Wonderland on Armory Square, featuring the city’s only outdoor skating rink.

Guests are invited to join the celebration beginning at 6 p.m., led by MGM Resorts Northeast Group President and COO Chris Kelley and Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. There will be special appearances by the Dan Kane Singers, the New England Patriots Cheerleaders, and Santa Claus.

A hot chocolate bar and festive adult beverages will be available, along with a special to-go menu from TAP Sports Bar. Local favorite Hot Oven Cookies will also have its food truck on location.

Tickets for the ice rink can be purchased in person. Hours are: Monday and Tuesday, closed; Wednesday and Thursday, 4 p.m.-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 1 p.m.-10 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 10 p.m.

The MGM Springfield Skating Rink will be open Nov. 26 to Jan. 2. Holiday hours are 4 p.m.-10 p.m. on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

A coordinated holiday tree light and music show will be on display every hour on the hour from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week, from Nov. 26t through Jan. 2.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — For the first time in more than 18 months, poker enthusiasts will have the opportunity to ante up and compete in live cash games in the MGM Springfield Poker Room. Scheduled to reopen its doors today, Oct. 29, at 11 a.m., it will be the state’s only venue currently offering poker.

“MGM Springfield is thrilled to reopen our poker room. We are looking forward to welcoming back our loyal players and dozens of employees who have waited for this day for more than a year and a half,” said Chris Kelley, MGM Springfield president and chief operating officer.

With the health and safety of guests and employees at the forefront, the room will offer 13 total tables, up to nine players per table, live cash games, and daily play from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — MGM Springfield’s Free Music Friday concert series will move inside to the Aria Ballroom beginning Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m. Doors are scheduled to open at 7 p.m.

The upcoming lineup includes LA’s BackStage Pass (Oct. 15), Beyond Purple (Oct. 22), Raise Your Hands: Bon Jovi Tribute (Oct. 29), and Trailer Trash (Nov. 5).

“We are thrilled to continue offering this free concert series to our community featuring some of our most talented local artists,” said Chris Kelley, MGM Springfield’s president and chief operating officer. “Based on the success of the summer program, it makes perfect sense to bring the fun inside to one of our fantastic MGM Springfield venues.”

Beer, wine, and non-alcoholic beverages will be available during the shows. Guests also can enjoy MGM Springfield’s diverse food and beverage offerings before or after the concerts, including the Chandler Steakhouse, Tap Sports Bar, and South End Market.

For additional details on the Free Music Fridays concert series, including lineup updates, click here.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — MGM Springfield continues to focus on expanding amenities to accommodate increasing numbers of guests as demand grows and visitation continues to rise. To that end, two of the casino’s popular nightlife hotspots, Commonwealth Bar and Lounge and the Knox Bar, reopened last week.

Commonwealth will be open Thursday through Sunday from 5 p.m. to midnight and Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. The Knox will be open 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. every Friday and Saturday.

MGM Springfield also will expand operating hours of TAP Sports Bar beginning Wednesday, Sept. 15. The venue will be open Wednesday through Friday from 4 to 10 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 10 p.m.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — ROAR! Comedy Club is back and ready to bring the laughs. Tickets to see comedians Ray Harrington on Saturday, Aug. 14, and Marty Caproni on Saturday, Aug. 28, are on sale at mgmspringfield.com/roar. ROAR! Comedy Club is located in the refurbished Armory at MGM Springfield.

MGM Springfield and John Tobin Presents will host comedy nights in ROAR! through the remainder of the year, with more shows to be announced in the upcoming weeks. The club, which launched in 2019, is a staple of MGM Springfield’s entertainment offerings.

“We are ecstatic to be re-opening ROAR! Comedy Club and bringing the great people of Springfield, Western Mass., and Connecticut laughter again,” said Ryan Cott, managing partner at John Tobin Presents. “It’s been a long 16 months without shows at ROAR!, but we couldn’t be happier to renew our fantastic partnership with MGM Springfield, who have been instrumental in bringing top-notch entertainment to the area.”

Chris Kelley, president and chief operating officer of MGM Springfield, added that “the return of ROAR! Comedy Club marks another milestone in reintroducing entertainment to our campus and downtown Springfield. We kicked off our Free Music Friday concert series last month and put the spotlight on premier local talent. Now, we look forward to reopening the doors of the iconic Armory for evenings of laughter. MGM Springfield is proud to offer the best in entertainment as we continue to celebrate the strength and resilience of our community.”

Daily News

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission reported today that the month of June 2021 at MGM Springfield, Plainridge Park Casino (PPC), and Encore Boston Harbor generated approximately $84 million in Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR) for the Commonwealth.

Breaking down the numbers, MGM Springfield generated $16.53 million in slot GGR and $3.67 million in table game GGR, for a total of $20.2 million, which netted $5.05 million in taxes. These numbers are down from May, when the casino generated $17.23 million in slot GGR and $4.02 million in table GGR, for a total of $21.25 million. But the numbers are slightly better than June of 2019 (the casino was closed to the pandemic during that month last year), when MGM Springfield generated $14.7 million in slot GGR and $5.3 in table GGR for a total of $19.9 million in total GGR.

This June, Encore generated $29.35 million, and $23.2 million, respectively, for a total of $52.56 million in GGR and $13.2 million in taxes, while PPC generated $11.3 million in slots GGR and $5.45 million in taxes.

PPC, a category 2 slots facility, is taxed on 49% of GGR. Of that total taxed amount, 82% is paid to Local Aid and 18% is allotted to the Race Horse Development Fund. MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor, category 1 resort-casinos, are taxed on 25% of GGR; those monies are allocated to several specific state funds as determined by the gaming statute.

To date, the Commonwealth has collected approximately $816 million in total taxes and assessments from PPC, MGM and Encore since the respective openings of each gaming facility.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELDMGM Springfield will present Brian Regan at Symphony Hall on Nov. 12 at 8 p.m. Tickets go on sale June 16 at 10 a.m. at MGMSpringfield.com, Ticketmaster.com, and the MGM Springfield Box Office. M Life Rewards members will receive exclusive presale access July 15 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. 

Regan stars in his own Netflix series, Stand Up And Away! With Brian Regan, a four-episode original series that combines sketch comedy and stand-up, executive produced by Regan and Jerry Seinfeld; and the Netflix special, Brian Regan: Nunchucks And Flamethrowers, which is also available as a vinyl album.

Regan can also be seen in the role of “Mugsy” in the Peter Farrelly TV show, Loudermilk, on Audience Network. Farelly personally cast Regan in the series, which premiered to rave reviews with Regan earning accolades for his portrayal of a recovering addict who is estranged from his family.

In 2015, Regan made history with his stand-up special, Brian Regan: Live From Radio City Music Hall, as the first live broadcast of a stand-up special in Comedy Central’s history. He made a scene-stealing cameo in Chris Rock’s film, Top Five, and is a guest on two episodes of Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, which is now streaming on Netflix.

Regan has made numerous appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and was a regular guest on The Late Show with David Letterman, appearing on nearly 30 episodes of the CBS show. 

For announcements and additional details on upcoming events at Symphony Hall and MGM Springfield, visit MGMSpringfield.com.

Daily News

BOSTON — During a remote public meeting on May 26, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) voted to rescind COVID-19-related restrictions for gaming establishments and horseracing and simulcasting facilities.

The casino operators agreed, as part of the new guidelines, to retain a pandemic safety officer until further notice and continue to report any positive COVID tests to the MGC’s Investigations and Enforcement Bureau and their respective local boards of health.

“It’s been 15 months since the Gaming Commission convened with all three casino licensees in a virtual setting to discuss the rapid reach of the coronavirus pandemic,” said Cathy Judd-Stein, MGC chair. “The three gaming licensees have cooperated fully throughout this process, working always to serve the public’s interests and protect their patrons and employees.

“We thank Plainridge Park Casino, MGM Springfield, and Encore Boston Harbor for their compliance and dedication to health and safety during this difficult period,” she continued. “I also wish to extend my sincere gratitude to the entire MGC team for its consistent commitment over the last 15 months.”

The commission also allowed horseracing and simulcasting licensees, including Plainridge Park, Raynham Park, and Suffolk Downs, to rescind their respective MGC-approved COVID-related reopening plans, with similar agreements in place regarding pandemic safety officers and COVID reporting.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Wahlburgers announced that its restaurant at MGM Springfield is now open to the public and ready to serve guests. The Wahlburgers MGM Springfield team is looking forward to becoming a part of the community and providing guests with an exciting dine-in experience as well as offering takeout.

“My goal for Wahlburgers has always been to combine simple and delicious food with amazing hospitality. We’re honored to have the opportunity to bring our restaurant experience to the historic community of Springfield and invite everyone to stop in, sit down, and make memories with us,” Executive Chef Paul Wahlberg said.

The popular casual dining concept founded by brothers Mark, Donnie, and Paul Wahlberg, and the subject of A&E Network’s Emmy-nominated reality show for 10 seasons, will feature a chef-inspired menu that brings guests its signature lineup of burgers along with entrée salads, sandwiches, and more. The restaurant’s full bar will offer a large selection of craft cocktails, wines, and local beers.

Wahlburgers Springfield MGM is located at 1028 Main St., at the corner of Main and Union streets in downtown Springfield. The 4,900-square-foot restaurant will be open daily for lunch and dinner. In honor of the late family matriarch, Alma Wahlberg, the chain’s Springfield location includes a special ‘Alma’s table.’ This design element is adorned with photos from her childhood through her adult life, along with snapshots of her family members.

Those who join the WahlClub rewards program by downloading the Wahlburgers app will have access to exclusive promotions, earn points for every dollar spent, and redeem rewards for free food and merchandise. Online ordering and delivery are also available via the Wahlburgers app.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Live music will returns to MGM Springfield with the new Free Music Fridays Concert Series. Every Friday from June 4 to Sept. 3, some of the area’s most popular rock bands will perform on the Plaza at MGM Springfield starting at 7:30 p.m., weather permitting.

Kicking off the 2021 series is FAT featuring Peter Newland. Additional local favorites such as Trailer Trash, Darik and the Funbags, and Michelle Brooks-Thompson, among others, are scheduled to perform throughout the summer.

“MGM Springfield is known for its diverse outdoor programming with a focus on entertaining guests and bringing the community together,” said Chris Kelley, MGM Springfield’s president and chief operating officer. “We look forward to welcoming guests, as well as members of the Springfield community, every weekend this summer with an evening of music and fun. The revitalization of the downtown community continues to be a priority for our team, and we can’t wait to host guests on the Plaza for the first time in more than a year.”

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno added that “I am very happy to see the return of live music with Free Music Fridays at our world-renowned MGM Springfield. As we continue with the transitioning of a phased reopening of our city and the Commonwealth, it is exciting to see that MGM Springfield is bringing back this vibrant and festive event of live music to downtown Springfield. I want to thank MGM Springfield President and COO Chris Kelley and his leadership team for their continued commitment and investment in our city and I am looking forward to celebrating the return of these musical events once again.”

The Plaza Bar will reopen for Free Music Fridays, offering summer cocktails, beer, and non-alcoholic beverages, among other options. Guests also can enjoy MGM Springfield’s diverse food and beverage offerings before or after the concerts, with options including the Chandler Steakhouse, Tap Sports Bar, and Southend Market venues including Bill’s Diner, Jack’s Lobster Shack, Wicked Noodle, and Hearth Grill.

“I am so proud of our community and the efforts we’ve all taken to get to this point,” said Chris Russell, executive director of the Springfield BID. “As we continue along this positive path, we’re very excited to see people return to doing the things they love in downtown Springfield. Thank you, MGM Springfield, for bringing concerts back to the city.”

For additional details on the Free Music Fridays Concert Series, including lineup updates, visit mgmspringfield.com.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Massachusetts casinos recorded a second straight positive month of revenues in April, as MGM Springfield, Encore Boston Harbor, and the slots parlor at Plainridge Park Casino jointly generated $84.63 million in gross gaming revenue last month, about $673,000 million more than in March.

That yielded about $24.16 million in taxes and fees for the state, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission announced. The state’s share from April is more than it has collected from the three gaming facilities since February 2020, the last month without COVID-19 restrictions.

MGM Springfield reported more than $21.93 in gross gaming revenue last month, including more than $4.28 million in table-game revenue. Slot revenues were slightly less than the record set in March, but still totaled almost $204.1 million in April. The house kept 8.65% of that for about $17.65 million in slot revenue.

Cover Story

But MGM Springfield Leader Optimistic About the Next Chapter

Chris Kelley had just arrived in Springfield and was still getting acclimated to the region when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived almost exactly a year ago.

Then, he had to get acclimated to something else — something no one in the casino industry had ever seen or been forced to endure before.

“These facilities just weren’t meant to be closed,” said Kelley, president of MGM Resorts’ Northeast Group, which includes MGM Springfield. But they were, of course — for four long, brutal months, before finally reopening in July, but only at one-third capacity and with a number of restrictions in place. Later, the state’s casinos had to reduce hours and close at 10 p.m. as a late-year surge in cases moved the goalposts again.

Now, some restrictions are being eased, and later this month, the state will enter what is known as step 1 of phase 4, prompting Kelley to glance toward the future with optimism in his voice. But in all ways, and by all accounts, the ‘ramping-up’ period for MGM Springfield — the one we all heard so much about in the months before COVID dramatically changed the landscape — has been turned on its ear.

“People are just really excited to be part of bringing downtown West Springfield back.”

In some ways, it will be like starting over for this operation, which recently reopened its hotel for weekends and also its sports bar, and is waiting with what can only be called bated breath to see if and to what degree patrons will return to the blackjack tables, slot machines, bars, and, eventually (but no one really knows when) large-scale events like concerts, shows, and fundraising galas.

In a wide-ranging interview, Kelley, who has remained mostly quiet, from a press perspective, since arriving in this region, talked with BusinessWest about the past year, but mostly about what comes next for this highly visible, nearly $1 billion business that opened to great expectations 32 months ago.

That look back was understandably painful, although he said the past year has certainly been a somewhat beneficial learning experience on many levels (more on that later) and a time when changes coming to the industry were greatly accelerated.

As for the future … it is obviously clouded by question marks that involve everything from how much pent-up demand there will be for everything a casino has to offer, to the fate of sports gambling in the Bay State.

Chris Kelley says, it feels like starting over

In some ways, Chris Kelley says, it feels like starting over at MGM Springfield.

Kelley is optimistic about both.

He said Las Vegas has recently returned to its 24/7 character and something rapidly approaching conditions that existed pre-COVID — and the early indications are certainly positive.

“With vaccine distribution ramping up around the country, there’s good reason for cautious optimism as we look at our ability to gather in larger numbers, and for our industry, in the broader sense, to see improvement as opposed what it was experiencing only a few months ago. As we look at the calendar year 2021, I think we see significant opportunities for improvement, especially as we move into the second half of the year.”

As for sports betting, he said several bills are in various stages of talk and progression through the Legislature, and he’s optimistic that the state will ultimately pass one, especially with other states already doing so, with revenue flowing to them as a result. More important than simply approving a bill, though, is passing legislation that will enable the state to effectively compete and ultimately become an industry leader in this realm. Such a bill might bring $50 million in additional tax revenues to the state annually, he projected.

“We’re looking for Massachusetts to be able to compete with all of the surrounding states that have or soon will have sports betting,” he said, noting that Connecticut will soon be in that category. “A level playing field for MGM and the other casinos in the state is very important, as is giving our customers an amenity, and an experience, that they’ve been asking for now for years.”


Doubling Down

Reflecting on the past year, what it was like, and even what he’s learned as a manager, Kelley started by flashing back to what were the darkest of days — when the casino was closed and there was no indication of when it might open again.

“It’s a very uncomfortable experience to walk through these facilities when they’re dark and there’s no activity and action — the sights and sounds that ultimately drew us all into this industry,” he told BusinessWest, noting, again, that once a casino cuts the proverbial grand-opening ribbon, its doors are never locked.

The fact that they had to be locked was just the first in a string of unprecedented steps that defined the next several months, from the shuttering of the hotel and restaurants to the cancellation of scores of events that were on the books, to ultimately laying off two-thirds of the employees working at the casino before the pandemic arrived.

Overall, Kelley said, this has been a humbling experience in some ways — a challenging time, to be sure, but also a learning experience and an opportunity to accelerate, out of necessity, some changes that were coming to the industry anyway.

“No business model for any company will be exactly the same, post-COVID,” he explained. “We have innovated along the way, adopting best practices, and many of those will remain, to the benefit of the guests,” he told BusinessWest. “Digital innovations are an area I would point to; MGM Resorts and MGM Springfield were already headed toward many digital innovations pre-COVID, but the pandemic really accelerated the implementation of those efforts — things like digital menus, the use of QR codes, mobile check-in, and digital keys; those things will remain, and those are a positive part of the guest experience today and moving forward.”

Elaborating on what was learned and how the casino and its staff responded to the rapidly changing landscape, Kelley said some valuable experience was gained that should benefit his team moving forward, especially when it comes to — here’s that word again — pivoting.

“We want to make it more walkable, more friendly, and more inviting so we can complement the business investment that’s happening there.”

“When the pandemic hit, it was a huge learning experience for everyone in this industry,” he said. “We all had to create new ways of operating and coping with restrictions that we had never experienced before. We put an emphasis on internal communications and external communications with our guests, and we found ways to stay in contact with our teams virtually. And through this process, we’ve been working hand-in-hand with our state and local officials and our community partners to weather this experience with the strength and support of each other. That ability to come together as a community during times like this is the silver lining to a very difficult period.

“As a team, we recently discussed the importance of leadership agility,” he went on, “because we have had to learn how to be very nimble and adjust to ever-changing conditions, which I believe will ultimately benefit the business in coming out of all this.”

Barriers at the gaming tables and social-distancing reminders have been facts of life

Barriers at the gaming tables and social-distancing reminders have been facts of life during the pandemic at MGM Springfield.

In recent months, business — and gross gaming revenues — have steadily improved, said Kelley, and this has been while the hotel and some restaurants have been closed. Looking forward, he expects this trend to continue and for there to be a good amount of pent-up demand for casino-style entertainment.

“It remains to be seen what the reaction of our communities will be to a vaccinated population, but we’re optimistic that we’ll see the return of guests to our property,” he said. “We had seen resiliency even during this time.”

The hotel reopened on a limited basis the first weekend in March, he went on, with the goal being to gauge guest demand and comfort levels and then adjust the business model accordingly. He said initial bookings have been positive, and he expects improvement to come gradually.

As for events in the casino’s various venues — gatherings have brought people and energy to the downtown area and business to a number of hospitality-related ventures — Kelley said it is too early to know when this aspect can resume.

“Ultimately, that will be up to the state to determine,” he noted. “What we can do is make sure that we’re as prepared as possible for that day; we do discuss those things frequently, and we’re actively engaged in planning for the return of those amenities.”


Plenty of Wild Cards

Speaking of being prepared … this is exactly what the casino is striving to do when it comes to another key focal point moving forward — sports betting.

New Hampshire became the 16th state to legalize such betting (there are now 22) in July 2019, and officially went live in late December that year. Meanwhile, Connecticut has taken huge steps in this direction, although some complicated negotiations remain between the many parties involved when it comes to where venues will be located, how many there will be, and who will operate them.

As for the Bay State, Kelley counts himself among those who believe it’s a question of when — not if — sports betting gets the green light, and he obviously considers that step pivotal if the state’s casinos are going to going to tap the full potential of what has long been considered an attractive market.

But he stressed repeatedly that his focus is not simply on working with state legislators to pass a bill, but to create a playing field on which the state’s casino can effectively compete. And this is the consistent message he and others with MGM have been delivering to state officials.

“We’re encouraged by the number of sports-betting bills that have already been introduced, and each of the bills that has been drafted has been tailored to the unique interests of the sponsor,” he explained. “So we’ve been focused on advising lawmakers on what our experience has shown us.”

Elaborating, he said this experience has shown that the lower the tax rates are on sports-gambling revenues, the better one’s odds are of effectively competing against what he called the “illegal markets,” and also against the growing number of neighboring states already in or soon to get in this game.

“We want to create a competitive operating model, and so a tax rate that is on the lower side is helpful in creating the best payouts for the guests, and also helpful in competing against the illegal markets, and it’s helpful in competing against border states,” he went on. “And we believe that, ultimately, it creates the best guest experience as well.”

He said the casino has a plan in place and has the ability to move “very quickly” when state legislators decide to pull the trigger.

“We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the property and where a sports book makes sense, and also at how to create an experience that would really be a market leader and that will benefit the community at the same time,” he explained, adding that there is a good deal of experience in this realm within the MGM corporation that he and his team can benefit from. “We’ll have many resources to draw upon, and we’re excited about that.”

Reflecting again on those dark times that coincided with his arrival in Springfield, Kelley said those memories linger, even as many can see that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. And they make him appreciate a return to something ‘normal’ even more.

“To see us moving back in the direction of offering those positive moments, those positive milestones, those positive experiences for our guests, is extraordinarily gratifying, and part of what I love about this business,” he said, adding, again, that while question marks still dominate the landscape, he remains optimistic about not only turning back the clock to pre-COVID levels of revenue and progress, but setting the bar higher.

Ultimately, this story is still in the early chapters, he told BusinessWest, and the ones to come will hold plenty of intrigue.


George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — MGM Springfield will reopen its hotel and TAP Sports Bar on Friday, March 5. The hotel will reopen in a limited capacity to invited casino guests only for the immediate future. TAP Sports Bar will be open Friday through Sunday.

Other dining options at MGM Springfield, as of March 5, include the Chandler Steakhouse, Friday and Saturday; and South End Market, featuring Bill’s Diner, Wicked Noodles, and Jack’s Lobster Shack (all open every day) and Gelato & Espresso (Friday and Saturday).

All guests and employees are required to wear masks everywhere on property. Visit mgmspringfield.com for current hours of operation.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — MGM Springfield returned to 24-hour operations effective today, Jan. 29. To meet state guidelines, the casino’s capacity will remain at 25%. Health and safety protocols are in place throughout MGM Springfield. Click here for details about MGM Resorts’ company-wide, seven-point safety plan.

“MGM Springfield returns to 24-hour operations today, and it feels like a step toward a level of normalcy,” said Chris Kelley, president of the Northeast Group, MGM Resorts. “We appreciate everyone having done their part to slow the rise in COVID-19 cases, and we will continue to be vigilant with our health and safety protocols. We are happy to welcome back some team members today, and as the capacity restriction is eased and additional amenities reopen, such as the hotel and Tap, our hope is to welcome back even more.”

Daily News

BOSTON — Revenues at Massachusetts’ three casinos dipped slightly as coronavirus cases climb and the state faces more restrictions ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, the Associated Press reported Monday.

Gross gaming revenues at the state’s casinos totaled about $69 million in October, down about $1 million from September, according to the state’s Gaming Commission.

MGM Springfield generated about $17.5 million in total revenues in October, while Encore Boston Harbor reported about $40 million, and Plainridge Park reported roughly $10 million. The revenues generated nearly $20 million in tax collections for the state.

Monthly revenue numbers at each of the facilities have remained relatively unchanged since they reopened this summer following the statewide economic shutdown imposed at the start of the pandemic, but the totals are down from what the facilities were generating prior to the pandemic. For example, in January, the three casinos generated about $80 million in gross gambling revenues, delivering nearly $22 million in state tax revenue.