Massachusetts‘ first destination casino, MGM Springfield, opened its doors on August 24 to much fanfare.
Opening weekend was busy, and the initial reviews were extremely positive. That’s not unexpected. After all, MGM invested nearly $1 billion in the brand new property.
All the slot machines and table games are state-of-the-art and right out of the box, and all of the restaurants, hotel rooms, and amenities were clean and practically untouched.
MGM gave the 250-room hotel a unique industrial chic design, with lots of overt and covert design elements plucked from to the city Springfield’s history.
But once you get past the cool design features and the newness, the property’s warts (and there are many) begin to appear.
It’s a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to go very often
My biggest takeaway from my stay at MGM Springfield is it lacked an identity.
Is it a gambling joint or is it a destination resort casino?
At the end of the day, it appears to be a passable version of both. The overall vibe I got from the property is it couldn’t decide what it wanted to be.
Furthermore, certain parts of the casino felt rushed, like when you have to change a design plan at the last minute and do your best to make it work with what you have.
As an example, the casino floor is full of top-of-the-line gaming machines, but they’re packed pretty close together with few main footpaths to travel. Because of this, navigating the casino floor is similar to travelling down a small side street lined with parked cars, and having another car coming at you.
On the amenity side, MGM has a cinema instead of an on-property theater (more on that in a moment). The property also has a small, indoor pool area like you’d find at any decent chain hotel, and a tucked-away spa located on the second floor.
At the end of the day, there’s a lot of ways for day-visitors to pass a couple hours, but not a lot of ways guests can keep themselves occupied for a couple of days.
As such, it’s very easy to get bored at MGM Springfield, and unlike a typical destination casino, the property is unlikely to meet all of your needs when it comes to dining, entertainment or retail.
You’ll need to leave the casino to see a show
In the same vein, the casino settled on the nearby 8,000-seat Mass Mutual Center as its entertainment venue.
That means guests will either have to walk, drive or be shuttled the quarter mile distance to and from the show.
I’ll leave it at this for now – Springfield is not known as a walking city.
On top of that, during cold, snowy New England winters, no one is going to want to get dressed up and go on a five minute walk.
Couple all of that with the small, 250-room hotel and it’s pretty obvious that most people going to the show are not staying at MGM Springfield.
The obvious question is, if they have to get back in their car and drive over to the venue, why would someone going to a show step foot in the MGM Springfield casino? It’s an entirely avoidable part of seeing the show.
From my own perspective living an hour and a half to the east of the casino, I would eat at any number of nice restaurants on the way, park at either MGM or the slightly closer Civic Center Garage and go home afterward.
That means you’re going to have thousands of people going to the Mass Mutual Center to see an MGM Springfield show, whose only experience with the casino will be driving by it or using its free self-parking garage.
Compare that to a casino with an on-property entertainment venue. Every attendee steps in the casino and is therefore more likely to plan a one-stop-shopping-trip: eat, attend the show, have a few drinks afterwards, maybe gamble and stay overnight.
Frankly, choosing an on-site movie theater over an entertainment venue is a bit of a head scratcher.
Hotel security concerns
I want to circle back to my “not a walking city” comment, in regards to personal safety.
I was dismayed to find unmanned guest elevators just off the lobby (but completely out of view of the front desk) that didn’t require a key card to access.
Worse, there’s an unmanned guest elevator on the casino floor.
That elevator did require a room card to access floors 3-5 (which begs the question, why isn’t that tech in the lobby elevators?) but anyone could access the elevator and go up to second floor. There’s a glaring hole in that security feature. Someone with bad intentions would just have to wait for someone else to call the elevator and use their room key to go to a higher floor.
The lax security (particularly on opening weekend) seems quite reckless in a city that routinely ranks in the top five most dangerous places in Massachusetts, and often lands on national lists of dangerous cities.
Food and beverage options at MGM Springfield
The most disappointing aspect of the property for me was the lack of dining options.
Hopefully this is already being addressed, as it’s hard to call yourself a destination casino when it’s difficult to find something decent to eat without going off-property.
By this point you should be noticing a theme: MGM Springfield is going to have trouble keeping people on property during their stay. It needs at least one and perhaps two more sit-down dining options, and more options (either proprietors or expanded menus) in the food court.
The property currently boasts three sit-down restaurants:
- Cal Mare – an upscale Italian restaurant
- Chandler Steakhouse – a high-end steakhouse
- Tap Sports Bar – typical bar food
Cal Mare’s upscale charm is somewhat ruined by its cafeteria-like feel.
First, the restaurant is completely open to the casino floor and shares a space with its pizza counter, where customers queue up, pick their food and seat themselves in an area that backs up to the sit-down Cal Mare tables.
It’s not quite the experience I’m looking for in a two-person, $200-plus (three courses and a bottle of wine) dining experience.
Unlike Cal Mare, Chandler Steakhouse is completely closed off from the casino. As such, it’s the only real option for fine dining at MGM Springfield.
The food court
The only other dining options are several eateries with minimalist menus located in a small airport-style food court. There were references to room service, but that wasn’t available when I was there.
Beyond the small menus, a very noticeable issue in the food court was it had very few allergen-friendly choices. Employees in the food court and the ones manning the Cal Mare hostess station two days after opening weren’t equipped to handle questions about gluten-friendly options, and resorted to guessing, which is worse than simply saying, “I don’t know.”
The lack of online menus for all of the eateries (I can’t understand how that’s possible in 2018) only exacerbated that problem.
Forget Foxwoods and Mohegan, Twin River is the comparison
When you say “resort casino,” the region’s casino-goers conjure images of Connecticut casinos Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. Quite frankly, MGM Springfield is not in that category. It’s nice, but it’s nice in a quaint way.
MGM Springfield is a nice version of the Twin River Casino in Lincoln, Rhode Island.
But even Twin River, which is largely seen as a gambling joint, has comparable sit-down dining options and more recognizable food court choices than MGM Springfield:
- Fred & Steve’s Steakhouse
- Wicked Good Bar and Grill
- Shipyard Pub
- Johnny Rockets
- KFC/Taco Bell
It also has a 3,200 seat venue on site, and will be opening a 132-room hotel in the fall.
If the goal was to blow people away and show the region what a Las Vegas resort casino looks like, MGM Springfield came up short.