MGM latest big casino operator to look at Bay State

MGM Resorts International, which operates some of the most elaborate gambling palaces on the Las Vegas strip, will enter the casino sweepstakes in Western Massachusetts as the development partner in a casino proposal in Brimfield, near the Massachusetts Turnpike.

The casino company joins a crowded field seeking the sole casino license available in Western Massachusetts.

Operators of the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut are proposing a resort in Palmer, while Ameristar Casinos wants to build on a site in Springfield and Hard Rock International has been eyeing Holyoke.


With MGM’s entrance to the field, most of the top casino operators in the country are exploring bids for one three casino licenses in the Bay State.

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Casino giants Caesars Entertainment and Wynn Resorts are planning to compete for development rights in the Greater Boston region; the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, working with Malaysia-based Genting, has been given a head start in winning casino development rights in Southeastern Massachusetts.

“A lot of people were questioning if Massachusetts would be able to attract the big players in the industry,’’ said Clyde Barrow, a casino specialist from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. “If you look at the line-up now . . . Massachusetts has some of the biggest players in the world.’’

Only one project can win rights to develop a casino resort in each of the three geographic regions, as established by the state’s new casino gambling act, which became law in November.

David Callahan - chief executive of Palmer Paving Corp. and a principal of Rolling Hills Estates Realty Trust, which owns land in Brimfield just north of the Pike - is expected to formally introduce MGM as his partner today, according to a person with direct knowledge of the negotiations.


Callahan has scheduled an 11 a.m. press conference in Brimfield. He did not return a message yesterday.

MGM is one of the largest casino companies the world and runs a number of high-profile Las Vegas resorts, including Bellagio, Luxor, and Mandalay Bay.

Callahan told local officials in October that he was interested in building a casino on about 150 acres of his land, though he did not reveal his partner at the time. He has been interested in casino development for years. In a 2003 Globe interview, Callahan mused about building a casino on land he controlled in Warren, which borders Brimfield.

“That’s where it should go in, right off the turnpike,’’ he said at the time. “They want to bring in revenue, right? That’s the most central point in New England.’’

The town of Brimfield, with a population under 4,000, is best known for its sprawling antique show, held three times a year. Covering acres of outdoor exhibition space, each show lasts several days and draws thousands of dealers, buyers, and browsers.


Brimfield selectmen did not return e-mail messages yesterday.

The news of another major player entering the competition struck a sour note with casino supporters in Palmer, where Mohegan Sun has been carefully cultivating local support for years, in anticipation of legalization of casino gambling.

“There certainly has been a lot of action out here,’’ said Jennifer Baruffaldi, spokeswoman for the procasino group, Citizens for Jobs and Growth in Palmer. “We do believe that we have the best site, and we will keep moving forward.’’

State Senator Stephen Brewer, a Barre Democrat, represents Brimfield and Palmer. He had expected the casino legislation to attract numerous developers to the region, “and frankly I think there will be more,’’ he said. “This is when the bidders begin to get serious.’’

He credited the Massachusetts Turnpike with attracting developers. “All along I have said, ‘Give me 50 acres and easy-on, easy-off to a major piece of infrastructure, the turnpike, then you’ve got yourself a starting point.’ ’’

“Come on in, the water’s fine,’’ Brewer said, urging developers to consider the western region.

MGM, one of the biggest casino operators in the world, has run into trouble in recent years. “MGM is one of the big ones that a lot of people thought might not make it through the recession,’’ said Barrow, referring to the firm’s large debt load.

In Atlantic City, MGM will sell its share of the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa because casino regulators are uncomfortable with MGM’s relationship with Hong Kong businesswoman Pansy Ho, whose father is alleged to have ties to organized crime.

Mark Arsenault can be reached at