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Springfield voters approve casino gaming

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© MGM Springfield/MGM Resorts International © MGM Springfield/MGM Resorts International
© MGM Springfield/MGM Resorts International © MGM Springfield/MGM Resorts International
© MGM Springfield/MGM Resorts International © MGM Springfield/MGM Resorts International
SPRINGFIELD, MA (WSHM/AP) -

A casino is one step closer to coming to downtown Springfield. Residents voted to approve MGM Resorts International proposal for a south end casino.

After weeks of hype, and a heavy push to get voters to the polls, city election officials found  turnout much higher than had originally been expected. Roughly 25% of eligible city residents voted in Tuesday's referendum.

Voters faced a single "yes" or "no" question on whether to approve a plan to build an $800 million resort-style casino in the city's south end, as proposed by MGM Resorts International.

Casino backers said the project would bring jobs and economic development to an area of Springfield damaged by a tornado two years ago. But opponents claimed casinos prey on low-income, and elderly people and gambling addicts.

Both sides had representatives at polling places across the city.

Springfield resident Michael Gonzalez stood outside of the Boys and Girls Club Tuesday afternoon in protest against the casinos.

"Everyone's opinion is set on how much money the city is going to make, but there's no opinions on how much money the people are going to lose," Gonzalez said. "The casino is not going to make Springfield any better in this economy. It's going to make it worse."

On the same sidewalk, another Springfield resident, Mark Kornacki stood in support of the proposed developments.

"We believe in the cause of MGM creating some excitement around here," said Korniacki. "The last 10 years here have steadily begun to decline. People talk about the guns, drugs and violence; well that's all here now. So, if nobody comes in now to save it, or to give it assistance, it's not going anywhere. So let's go with the casinos, because what we're doing now is not working."

Plans for the MGM Springfield project include a 125,000 sq. ft. casino, including 3,000 slot and video game machines, 75 table games and a poker room.

The project also calls for a 250-room hotel, 54 market-rate apartments, retail space, a movie theater, high-end bowling alley and at least seven restaurants.

MGM Resorts International estimates 2,000 construction jobs will be created, and more than 3,000 resort employees will be hired. The developer has committed to hiring city residents into at least 35 percent of those positions.

MGM Resorts International, and the city of Springfield entered into a host community agreement in May. The city is scheduled to receive more than $15 million in up front payments for community impact and development, as well as improvements at a city park and golf course.

If the project is approved, the city is expected to receive upwards of $25 million annually from sources, including predetermined community impact payments and a cut of the casino's gaming revenue.

The MGM Springfield project is the sole survivor of three planned casino developments in the city. Both Ameristar Casinos and Penn National Gaming previously vied for locations within the city, before abruptly ending their bids.

This is not the final step of determining if Springfield will get the casino. If approved Tuesday night, the proposal still faces a vote by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

Also MGM Springfield project would still face competition from two other resort casinos currently being considered in western Massachusetts. Mohegan Sun is planning a $1 billion casino resort on a property they own in Palmer. Hard Rock International has entered into an agreement to develop an $800 million casino on the Eastern States Exposition fairgrounds in West Springfield. 

Hard Rock recently entered into a host casino agreement with West Springfield. A similar agreement in Palmer is expected in the coming months.

A final decision on the location of a sole western Massachusetts casino, by the state gaming commission, is expected in early 2014.

If the MGM Springfield resort is approved by the state's gaming commission, the first phase is projected to open in the summer of 2016.

Copyright 2013 WSHM (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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    Tuesday, July 16 2013 10:53 AM EDT2013-07-16 14:53:57 GMT
    Economic Impact: $800 million project. 2,000 construction jobs. Estimated 3,000 permanent jobs. $15 million in advance payments to city of Springfield. Estimated $25 million in annual payments toMore >>
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