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MGM rolls into Springfield with plenty of showmanship

Entertainers greeted guests outside the ballroom on Thursday.
Entertainers greeted guests outside the ballroom on Thursday.(Lane Turner/Globe Staff)

SPRINGFIELD — MGM previewed the opening of its new resort casino here Thursday at a press conference that was like no other, it seems safe to say, ever seen in the Commonwealth.

Interspersed with speeches from politicians and casino executives were performances by the Blue Man Group and the masked hip-hop dance ensemble Jabbawockeez, who used cannons to shoot confetti into the crowd.

A movie trailer-style short film, shown to the audience of journalists and those who’d worked on the project, flashed images of glamorous people dancing and a message in stark white text: “We are in the holy s--- business.”

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The elaborate news conference was one in a series of events MGM Resorts has assembled to hype the state’s first full-service casino. The flavor of the message was a peculiar mix of Las Vegas-style showmanship and reverence toward this Western Massachusetts city’s proud heritage.

“What we are really doing here, folks, is investing in the revival of a great American city,” James J. Murren, CEO and chairman of MGM Resorts, said during the event.

Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno declared the project would revitalize the city’s downtown and the region’s economy.

“You saw a video, and it had a bad word,” Sarno said. “I’m going to tell you a good four-letter word: J-O-B-S.”

A combination of glitz and grit helped MGM appeal to the people of Springfield, where the promise of thousands of jobs helped sell the city on the facility in a 2013 referendum. About 3,000 people will work at the site, about 40 percent of whom live in Springfield.

Governor Charlie Baker told the crowd: “It’s a terrific day when you have a global enterprise that can choose to locate these operations in a lot of different places . . . put their foot down and say, ‘We’re going to invest in the people. We’re going to invest in the community. We’re going to invest here.”

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The new MGM Springfield casino includes a portion of the old city armory.
The new MGM Springfield casino includes a portion of the old city armory.(Lane Turner/Globe Staff)

Friday’s grand opening will feature a parade of hundreds of the resort’s employees and construction workers, as well as local officials, the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Minuteman Marching Band, and the Budweiser Clydesdales.

MGM spent $960 million to construct the massive facility that boasts a 250-room hotel along with a suite of dining and entertainment options to complement its 125,000 square feet of gambling space.

The site’s 2,550 slot machines, 120 table games, and 23 poker tables got the all-clear for the long-planned opening on Wednesday, after Massachusetts Gaming Commission staff said the facility had cleared last-minute compliance tests.

The sprawling complex has incorporated several historic Springfield themes, including nods to Springfield’s Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. It spans existing buildings in the city’s South End. There is an event space in the city’s historic armory, for example, and a former YWCA facility now houses a bar area, where on Thursday performers from the production “O” by Cirque du Soleil played air hockey in skin-tight costumes. The performers were on loan — for the time being — from the show’s residency at the Bellagio Las Vegas.

MGM officials believe its Springfield-chic pitch will resonate in the area surrounding the border with Connecticut, which has a more developed casino market. Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino have long been the biggest names in the region, though the Springfield casino is closer to Hartford and its suburbs than either of those sites.

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MGM Springfield follows the Plainridge Park slots parlor, which opened in 2015, into the Massachusetts gambling market. But it will be the first in the state to include table games, and the first to feature a hotel. The $2.5 billion Wynn Resorts casino in Everett is scheduled to open next June.

The MGM was trying to sweeten its pitch even as workers polished the facility in the advance of a Friday opening.

Actor Mark Wahlberg made an appearance at the complex to announce that he’d be opening a Wahlburgers burger restaurant on the site next year.

Murren said in an interview Thursday that he believes the site will appeal to an upper-middle-class demographic in the area, but that it will also draw in people from farther away.

“I believe we’re going to get more than people expect out of Eastern Mass.,” he said. “I think when folks in the Boston area actually see the quality of the product, they’re going to make the trip.”

A courtyard for guests features a large-scale chess board.
A courtyard for guests features a large-scale chess board.(Lane Turner/Globe Staff)

Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com.