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Editorial: A Word on MGM before Returning to Our Regular Program…

No longer a mere rendering. (via MGM)

On August 24 an undeniably transformative event will occur in the City of Springfield. After nearly six years of negotiation, debate, votes, wrangling, construction, renegotiation, and a disappointment here or there, MGM Springfield will open.

Those who read this blog know we have been consistently skeptical of casinos in Massachusetts to the point of opposition. We opposed the original bill in 2011 and the MGM citywide vote in 2013 and we backed repeal in 2014. But our abstention from the festivities is not sour grapes. Hardly. The reason comes from the calendar and our focus on our namesake: politics.

Some eleven days after MGM Springfield opens its doors, the voters of Massachusetts will choose their nominees for the elections in November. These days, we operate with a fraction of the RAM we once did—your editor-in-chief has a day job—and in our editorial judgment, the elections must take precedent.

But on the eve of this occasion we feel we must say a few words about this moment. We have hardly been silent, most recently urging our readers to consider history properly and not allow our city’s pols to rewrite it and reality to fit their narrative.

MGM CEO Jim Murren in 2015. (WMassP&I)

Our concern today is what it has always been. We simply remain skeptical about the economics of the project. We wonder whether the time and attention, if not money—truthfully, it has mostly been MGM’s that has been spent—could have been put to better use. No, we do not have and never did have a counterproposal to what MGM offered. That doesn’t invalidate our concerns.

This is not about vice. Adults can choose to spend their money how they see fit as long as they are not harming others. We do not fear a spike in crime either.

Nor are we especially fearful of undue political interference. While MGM’s outside counsel Frank Fitzgerald is a noted Dominic Sarno fundraiser—and his former associate Seth Stratton is MGM’s internal legal eagle—he doesn’t rise above any other moneyed interests that line city politicians’ campaign war chests.

Even if Fitzgerald kept his wallet and rolodex far from City Hall, MGM’s prominence might itself exert pressure. Such are the perils of large employers.

Rather, looking at the industry as we understand it, this blog could never grasp how the facility would be sustainable in an economically depressed region. From where will sufficient patrons come with casinos opened or opening in all compass directions?

No fear of a changing industry? (created via MGM Studios/MGM Resorts images)

In addition, the very forces that scared gaming companies into looking beyond Las Vegas—economic turbulence and stiff competition for consumers’ dollars both within the industry and outside of it—are the same ones that could trouble MGM Springfield.

Yet, this is MGM’s money, not the city’s. If they think spending nearly $1 billion is worth trying to poach the Connecticut tribes’ gaming dollars, God bless! The problem is Springfield has seen this movie before.

MGM is only the latest of a parade of schemes throughout the decades to revive downtown. For now, it is working. There is some street life, if mostly during the working hours, that was not there before. But that obsession with downtown has come consistently at the expense of equitable investment in quality of life issues across the city.

Mayor Sarno likes to point to MGM, mistakenly, as proof the South End is rising from the ashes of the tornado. But eyesores the storm left behind remain just up Central Street. The supposed stimulus of construction has not done much to revive many businesses outside those getting MGM’s direct business. Eastfield is on its last legs. Empty storefronts proliferate in countless neighborhoods, even ones that have done better.

Therein lies the problem. Among our greatest fears is the casino may give a false sense of security among city pols about Springfield’s position. Even if MGM hits the jackpot in Springfield, it will be but a drop in the city’s bucket of recovery.

It’s interesting that MGM has such an influence these day when MassMutual, which has more and better paying jobs, does not. The meager job gains from the life insurance giant’s consolidation of satellite offices at Springfield HQ relative to the jobs it is sending to Boston should be igniting a conflagration of city political hair.

Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your voters doth come.(WMassP&I)

All rants aside, we do in fact wish MGM well. As a discerning reader of the above screed may recognize, we have far more concerns with the city’s political system in the MGM era than with MGM itself. Contra some hysterics, MGM is not pouring industrial waste into drinking water or foreclosing on junk mortgages.

MGM’s agenda should not be mistaken as completely overlapping with Springfield’s. But being a business, we know whatever its ulterior motives, if any, they want to make money. If they succeed, at least some of that success will bleed into our city.

And so we turn back to the elections ahead throughout the commonwealth and beyond. We acknowledge and accept this change in the downtown. The onus is on us, and all residents, to hold MGM to its promises everyday and to demand our officials never get comfortable, but rather look beyond MGM to what next can serve our greater—and great—needs.