SPRINGFIELD — The MGM Springfield resort casino opened its doors Friday with a flourish that would befit the return of a conquering war hero. An army of uniformed workers at the downtown complex paraded past blocks-long lines of people who had arrived at dawn to be the first gamblers inside.
A marching band played as the procession made its way toward the city’s old armory, now part of the casino. Eight Budweiser Clydesdales pranced down Main Street, following a 1923 Rolls Royce — made in Springfield — carrying Mayor Domenic Sarno and MGM’s top local executive, Michael Mathis.
As the crowd began to file toward the doors, Frank Sinatra’s “Luck Be A Lady” blasted from loudspeakers. “You can’t beat Springfield!” one man yelled.
The fanfare celebrated the completion of a years-long, $960 million project that the city believes will spur economic development, drawing thousands of first-time visitors to Springfield’s South End.
The complex has a 250-room hotel along with a suite of dining and entertainment options connected to its 125,000 square feet of gambling space, making it the state’s first casino to offer table games and lodging onsite. Rooms start at $219.
The throngs that arrived early Friday morning for the official opening of the doors had been enthusiastically awaiting the start of gambling. Eager to be hospitable to those standing in the long lines, some local businesspeople came out and offered to hold people’s places so they could take bathroom breaks.
Cathy Forrrette, who works in sales at a nearby La Quinta Inns & Suites, was holding a sign that said “Gotta Go? Let us know.” She said it was the least she could do amid a bare-knuckle battle for spots in the queue.
“They’ve been waiting in the line since 6 this morning, and you’ve got people over here who are cutting in,” she said.
Kevin Tanguay, 52, and Gary Gosselin, 58, were among the first to arrive — at 5 a.m. Gosselin said he had been “waiting for seven years for this.”
“Why spend all our money in Connecticut when we can keep that revenue in Massachusetts?” said Tanguay.
Tanguay gambled for the first time earlier this year when the two Easthampton friends spent two days at a Connecticut casino. He lost some money in his debut outing, he said.
“I’m really hoping to have a better day today,” he said.
Inside, Anita Bird scrambled to prepare coffee drinks for hotel guests who were waiting for the casino floor to open. The Springfield resident was the first person hired to work on the project in 2012. “Everyone’s really excited to be here,” she said.
When they finally did, the line dissolved quickly as the crowd rushed into a forest of flashing slot machines, where many of the first wave of gamblers quickly settled in.
“When they first open, we hear from other people that basically they up the odds,” said Bobby D’Arezzo, of Smithfield, R.I., who was with his wife, Donna, playing a slots game called “Buffalo,” in which they were trying to win money by matching the animals on the screen.
The two live close to other casinos, but wanted to test their luck at the new spot.
As soon as Danny Migliore, 44, and his friend Jim Clark, 49, made it onto the casino floor, they sat down at one of the blackjack tables.
“Look at that, 21!” Migliore cried moments later as his friend got a blackjack, slapping the table with excitement.
Migliore said the two traveled to Springfield from Connecticut with the sole intention of playing blackjack.
“I won’t play nothing else,” Migliore said. “I’m a gambler. I love gambling. It’s as simple as that.”
Outside the casino, Springfield residents and business owners said they were hopeful that the scene would bring the prosperity.
Though few patrons had made their way to shops in the surrounding neighborhood by midday, Terri Skinner, the owner of nearby Nosh Restaurant and Cafe, said the presence of the casino’s 3,000 workers has already helped her trade. The restaurant was mobbed at lunchtime.
“There’s been a lot of good business around town lately,” she said. “We’re in a great spot being so close.”
People, she said, are “starting to feel good about coming here.”
Bob Dearing, who has lived in Springfield’s South End all of his 74 years, walked over to watch the festivities. The idea that his neighborhood would be a destination again had him feeling nostalgic.
There used to be lots to do in the area, he said, but in recent years, it has been dead at night. Now, he said, that’s about to change.
Even some who sought to stop the MGM Springfield said they see nothing left to do now but hope the community’s chosen economic development strategy works out.
“The city has risked a lot on this casino. The growth of the downtown area depends on it.” said Mark Mullan, a vocal foe of the referendum in which city voters approved the site in 2013.