SPRINGFIELD — MGM Resorts International received the full blessing of Massachusetts gambling regulators Friday to build and operate an $800 million casino in the city's downtown.
An opening is planned for 2017 after about 30 months of construction.
Plans call for a 25-story hotel with 250 rooms, a spa, a pool and a roof deck, 3,000 slot machines, 75 gaming tables, a poker room, a VIP gambling area, 15 shops and restaurants, a parking garage, an eight-screen cinema, a bowling alley and an outdoor stage.
MGM won't actually be awarded the license until after the state's Supreme Judicial Court rules on a petition to repeal the state's 2011 law allowing casinos. If the court allows the petition to go to a vote in November, voters could wipe out years of campaigning and preparation that led to MGM's designation. If the repeal vote fails, MGM could start construction.
The Las Vegas company would compete head-to-head with Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino, said MGM Resorts International Chairman and CEO Jim Murren. The Connecticut casinos dominated the gaming scene in the 1990s and early 2000s, but have had a decline in revenue in recent years because of new and expanded gambling options in New York, Rhode Island and elsewhere in the Northeast.
"This oligopoly that has existed for too long makes folks a little less competitive than they would otherwise be. We can out-entertain anybody in this industry, certainly anyone in Connecticut," Murren said.
He added later, "We will not only bring the money back to Massachusetts, we'll get some of that Connecticut money up here. And that's our goal."
On Friday morning, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission took a final vote to award the license available for western Massachusetts to Blue Tarp reDevelopment LLC, which will do business as MGM Springfield. Executives for MGM signed the necessary documents immediately afterward.
MGM will have to buy 90 tax parcels, demolish several buildings and rebuild 14.5 acres between Union and State streets, and between Columbus Avenue and Main Street. The construction phase is expected to create about 2,600 "full-year" equivalent jobs, meaning one person employed for one year. The casino will require about 2,350 full-time equivalent jobs.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said that knocking down poverty and crime requires education and jobs, "and this brings a tremendous amount of job generation to Springfield and Western Mass area."
Friday's approval was widely expected after the commission had voted its unanimous support Wednesday for the plan provided that MGM agreed to more than 20 terms and conditions, such as monitoring its hiring practices and traffic on I-91. The commission drafted the exact language of those terms Thursday.
If the project is allowed to move forward, there will be several months to finalize the architectural plans and get the necessary building permits before construction begins.
On Friday, some people working at businesses that would have to move to accommodate the casino voiced support for the plan.
"I like the idea of the casino," said Mauricio Ayala, 19, who works at Salazar Jewelry and Gifts at 1090 Main St. The store will have to move to another location, but Ayala said he would be interested in any type of job at MGM.
Nearby at Glory Gift & Variety at 1134 Main St., 18-year-old Joseph Lee worked at his parents' clothing store. He said that MGM has agreed to buy his parents' multistory building, and they will move the store south on Main Street.
Lee was fairly indifferent to the casino, saying that if the casino law were to be repealed, then his parents would simply stay where they are, which is a better location. However, if they move, they will get to sell their building and buy another one for less.
This is the first of three regional casino licenses to be awarded by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and the only one in western Massachusetts.
"As you know, the application was some number of thousands of pages pored over by many, many people," Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen P. Crosby said at a press conference. "We had meeting after meeting. We have a great staff having done a tremendous amount of work and evaluation through a very hard-nosed, very rigorous evaluation of this project."
The commission carefully worded the license to take effect after Massachusetts resolves an anti-casino petition drive to repeal the state's 2011 law allowing casinos. Petitioners gathered enough signatures to get the measure on the November ballot, but Attorney General Martha Coakley refused to certify the petitions, saying that a repeal would take property in the form of contract rights without compensation.
The matter was appealed to the state's Supreme Judicial Court, which is likely to decide in July if voters will have their say.
Alex J. Grant, a member of the Longmeadow Select Board, is a member of No Casino Springfield.
"The Gaming Commission is bankrolled by the casino applicants, and the casino money allows the Commission members to enjoy lavish dinners and luxury hotels," he said in a statement. "The commission is supposed to be a watchdog for the industry, but it's really a pampered lap dog. It shows how the gaming law is not working out as planned and needs to be repealed in November."
MGM's CEO Murren, who was in Springfield on Friday for the decision, said if the court allows the issue to go to the ballot in November and the 2011 casino legislation is repealed, his company will have lost more than $30 million that it has spent in Massachusetts so far trying to get the license and planning the casino.
"If we get a bad outcome, we're going to have to write everything off," Murren said. "My board will beat me up a little bit, for spending all the money that we spent."
MGM first announced its interest in Springfield in August 2012. The region had five competing casino proposals at one point. MGM Springfield was the only casino plan left in western Massachusetts after local referendum votes struck down competing plans by Mohegan Sun in Palmer and Hard Rock International in West Springfield.
MGM also bested a competing plan last year in Springfield. Penn National Gaming wanted to take control of both The Republican newspaper property and Peter Pan Bus Lines to build an $806 million casino project. Penn National had a partner in Peter Picknelly, chief executive officer of Springfield-based Peter Pan. That plan called for relocating both the newspaper and the bus company to make way for the Penn National complex, called Hollywood Casino Springfield, on 13.4 acres in the city's North End.
Last July, Springfield voters approved a local referendum allowing MGM to build. The measure passed, 57 percent to 43 percent, with 13,973 voting "yes" and 10,260 voting "no."
In February, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission awarded Penn National Gaming a license to operate a slots parlor in Plainville, Mass., near the northeast corner of Rhode Island. The 2011 legislation allowing casino gambling called for one slots license and three resort casinos.