Year One Of MGM Springfield Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be

Written By Derek Helling on August 29, 2019 - Last Updated on January 31, 2023
MGM Springfield year one

Two cities in human mythology, El Dorado and Oz, stand in contrast to each other. In a similar way, the narrative spun and the hard facts about MGM Springfield on its first anniversary aren’t congruent.

El Dorado is a mythical city resplendent in copious wealth. Oz, in Frank Baum’s political allegory book, was an impostor.

One of the aspects of Baum’s story changed for the iconic film adaptation was that the famous Emerald City wasn’t actually emerald in color. In Baum’s story, the Wizard of Oz passed an edict requiring citizens to wear emerald-shaded spectacles to make the city appear that shade of green.

Baum wrote the book as political commentary. He used that particular plot device to highlight his populist belief that the federal government was trying to make everything look better than it actually was.

He, unfortunately, ended up being correct. Within three decades the stock market crashed and the Great Depression hit.

MGM Springfield’s “green-washing” isn’t going to cause a global economic catastrophe. On a smaller scale, however, MGM is issuing its own spectacles in a way that would have made the Wizard green with envy.

MGM Springfield first anniversary a spin factory

Speaking to the media as festivities were underway, MGM Springfield President and COO Mike Mathis did his job. He ran distraction and shifted the conversation.

Mathis pointed out the 2,500 jobs created by the casino. He also argued that 40% of the casino’s employees reside in the Springfield area.

Mathis also stated a total of six million visitors attended the casino over its first year. He claimed that local businesses have benefited from the casino’s presence.

When pressed with the fact that revenues have fallen far short of projections, Mathis discounted the importance of that. No matter how much Mathis tries to deflect, however, data has no bias.

MGM Springfield first anniversary by the numbers

Amid the distractions of Aerosmith and a five-tier birthday cake, the numbers come in as “Debbie Downers.”

MGM Springfield has produced just over $250 million in gaming revenue since opening on Aug. 24, 2018. That’s far off the projection of $400 million that MGM promised.

The jobs claim that Mathis boasted of is also more complicated than he suggested. The casino employed over 3,000 people upon launch, meaning over 500 jobs have already been cut.

Mathis’ claim about the local economic impact looks similarly inflated, as well. Other perspectives don’t share his optimistic appraisal.

Local impact of MGM Springfield called into question

While Mathis waxed eloquent about how the casino has been a rising tide that has lifted all the city’s ships, retail space adjacent to the casino sits vacant.

While many factors beyond MGM’s control — like possible inflated rents — play a part in the situation, the fact that retail space sits empty in what should be a prime area based on the foot traffic Mathis boasts of is at least peculiar.

That peculiarity grows in importance upon consideration of other facts. The city and state have contributed their resources like tax breaks to further incentivize development around MGM.

Springfield granted the tax breaks upon the assumption that retail space would be so in demand around MGM that tenants would pay anything to get in. Massachusetts granted the same with the expectation that MGM would produce $100 million in tax revenue in its first year.

The $63.2 million in tax revenue MGM has provided has made a local impact through the Community Mitigation Fund. Grants from that fund have gone to finance projects like road improvements in the Springfield region.

The jury should still be out on MGM Springfield

Getting any new business off the ground, especially one with many Massachusetts casino competitors like the new Encore Boston Harbor, is a process that takes years. Calling MGM Springfield a failure after just a year would be premature.

It’s also too early for Mathis and others to call it a roaring success, however. Based on the results so far, that’s far too forgiving.

Despite Mathis’ insistence that everything is green and shiny, all one needs do is remove the spectacles issued at the anniversary party to see the situation’s true colors. MGM Springfield is more Oz than El Dorado so far.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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