The field of competitors for the sole Western Massachusetts casino license will soon expand with the addition of Hard Rock International, which is expected to announce a deal Friday to pursue development rights at the Eastern States Exposition fairgrounds in West Springfield, home of The Big E agricultural fair.
Eastern States Exposition, a nonprofit institution, has scheduled a “red carpet” luncheon Friday for a casino-related announcement. It did not release any details, though several sources said the organization has reached a deal to move forward with Hard Rock on a casino resort. Hard Rock representatives have visited the site many times, after exploring bids in Holyoke and Springfield in 2012.
Hard Rock will join a crowded competition for the Western Massachusetts casino license, competing against MGM Resorts and Penn National Gaming, which each have plans for Springfield resorts, and Mohegan Sun, which has proposed a casino in Palmer.
The state gambling commission controls three resort casino licenses and will issue no more than one in each of three regions of the state. The commission’s application deadline is Tuesday. Developers who want to vie for a license have until then to submit extensive financial documentation and pay a nonrefundable $400,000 fee. In the western region, MGM and Penn have already submitted their fees, according to the commission.
A West Springfield Hard Rock resort, planned for a rural site, would differ dramatically from projects pitched in neighboring Springfield, where MGM and Penn are pursuing downtown resorts.
No proposal can win a license unless endorsed by the voters of the host community in a municipal election.
Brian Griffin, a member of the West Springfield Town Council, recommended that townspeople “allow the process to play out” before judging the proposal.
Griffin was unsure how voters will receive the casino plan, but noted that West Springfield residents hold enormous good will toward the Eastern States Exposition. “There’s a tremendous amount of trust toward the Big E,” he said in a telephone interview. “It’s been a hundred years that they’ve been out there, and they’ve built a foundation in our town.”
In 2012, the Big E drew more than 1.3 million visitors, according to the Eastern States Exposition. The fair runs for 17 days, beginning the second Friday after Labor Day, and is a significant driver of tourism in Western Massachusetts. At more than 170 acres, the Exposition would have enough land to continue its annual fair and host a casino.
Hard Rock had originally landed in Holyoke, as one of the first companies to express interest in Massachusetts after the state legalized casino gambling in 2011. The company moved on from Holyoke because of political opposition from Mayor Alex Morse.
Hard Rock was among at least four gambling companies interested in Springfield, but decided in October not to submit a bid in the city. A company spokesperson said at the time that Hard Rock remained interested in competing for one of the Massachusetts licenses.
Mayor Carlo DeMaria of Everett has said he discussed a waterfront site in his city with Hard Rock officials late last year.
That site is now under the control of another casino company, Wynn Resorts.