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State ready to give MGM casino license in Springfield

An artist rendering of part of a proposed casino complex in Springfield.

Associated Press

An artist rendering of part of a proposed casino complex in Springfield.

The MGM Resorts plan to build a casino in Springfield scored consistently high marks this week in an exhaustive state review of the project, easily passing a final test before the project can earn the sole Western Massachusetts resort casino license.

In a two-day public review of the $800 million proposal, members of the state gambling commission praised the proposed resort’s “inside-out design” and integration into downtown Springfield, as well as its marketing strategy and its potential to compete with the tribal casinos in Connecticut.

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“The project is ambitious, innovative, and exciting, in the context of a city shrewdly and comprehensively attempting to renew its economic, social, and cultural health,” gambling commission chairman Stephen Crosby said during a commission review meeting Wednesday in Springfield.

The commissioners agreed in a 5-to-0 vote Wednesday that they are prepared to award the license to MGM if the company accepts a list of conditions on the license. Details of a final agreement should be worked out by Friday.

Because of MGM’s concerns about a citizen-led effort to repeal the state’s 2011 casino law, the commission intends to designate MGM as the winner Friday, but to delay formally awarding the license until the repeal effort is settled, a commission spokeswoman said.

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The formal award of the license triggers millions of dollars of obligations for MGM, which the company does not want to pay while the repeal effort is pending.

The Supreme Judicial Court is expected to rule in the next few weeks whether a repeal measure may appear on the November statewide ballot.

MGM will be the second casino developer selected to operate in Massachusetts. In February, the commission chose a Penn National Gaming proposal in Plainville as the winner of the state’s sole slot machine parlor license.

The MGM project would remake a section of downtown Springfield that was damaged by a 2011 tornado. Plans include a hotel, apartments, restaurants, retail stores, a cinema, bowling alley, skating rink, spa, and Las Vegas-style slot machines and table games.

Commissioners repeatedly praised the design of the project, which calls for amenities such as restaurants and retail stores to be built on the outside of the resort to generate foot traffic in downtown Springfield.

“We all liked the outward-looking approach,” Commissioner Gayle Cameron said.

About 58 percent of voters in Springfield supported the project in a 2013 referendum.

Voters in West Springfield and Palmer killed rival casino proposals at the ballot box. As the only project in the region to survive a local vote, MGM Springfield has long been the presumptive winner of the license.

If there was any suspense in the commission’s review, it was over how well the project would score on the commission’s tough grading system, which the gambling panel first used in February in its review of slot parlor proposals.

MGM scored a “very good” rating, the second highest score, across four categories: building and site design, finance, mitigation, and economic development. The project earned a “very good-plus” rating in the fifth category, project overview.

Mark Arsenault can be reached at mark.arsenault@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bostonglobemark.
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