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Year-long delay seen in opening of Springfield’s casino

Officials took part in a ground-breaking ceremony for the MGM casino resort in March.
Officials took part in a ground-breaking ceremony for the MGM casino resort in March.Stephan Savoia/Associated Press

The opening of the MGM Resorts casino in Springfield will be postponed about a year because of an anticipated delay in the completion of a major highway project near the casino site, MGM officials said.

The delay could potentially cost the state as much as $125 million in tax revenue it would have otherwise collected in that one-year period, state Gaming Commission officials and MGM representatives acknowledged Thursday at a commission meeting in Boston.

But those officials said a delay was preferable to opening the casino at a time when customers traveling to the casino would likely face extensive traffic tie-ups because of the construction.

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The new date for the opening of the $800 million casino is September 2018.

Commission Chairman Stephen P. Crosby said the delay, while disappointing, was beyond MGM’s control, and that the casino company would face no penalties.

“These things happen all the time,” Crosby said. “If there were no good reason for the delay, we would not let them do it or penalize them for it.”

The state Department of Transportation has long planned a major rehabilitation of a 1-mile stretch of Interstate 91, built on a viaduct in downtown Springfield, near the site for the planned casino.

But now that the project is set to soon begin, state transportation officials and the construction contractor are projecting a schedule that goes well into 2018.

Michael Mathis, an MGM executive and president of the company’s Springfield project, said opening the casino while the highway was still under construction, with its closures of various ramps and lanes, was not feasible.

Mathis said delaying the opening would ensure that casino customers will get the best possible first impression of the facility.

The commission took no vote on whether to accept MGM’s request for a scheduled delay.

Earlier Thursday, proponents of returning thoroughbred horse racing to Suffolk Downs next month were dealt a blow after the Gaming Commission indicated it would not consider approving racing at the track until at least the middle of July.

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Suffolk Downs’ owners last year announced they would close the East Boston track. But a group of horse owners and trainers, with the track’s cooperation, has asked the Gaming Commission to allow three days of racing there this summer on July 11, Aug. 8, and Sept. 5.

At a hearing on June 11, dozens of people involved in the industry sharply disagreed over whether the Gaming Commission should allow the three-day season, which would be funded in part with revenues from casinos meant to support the horse racing industry.

On Thursday, the Gaming Commission general counsel, Catherine Blue, said the commission staff is still reviewing the application and the various comments and questions submitted along with it.

In all, the thoroughbred horse racing industry is projected to receive about $18 million a year from casinos, once all four of the state’s gaming facilities are up and running in the next three years. The state’s first casino, Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville, opened Wednesday.

Given the dimming prospects of horse racing in Massachusetts, some state legislators are calling for a reexamination of the earmarks in the 2011 state gaming law that mandate that casino money go to the horse racing industry.


Sean P. Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.

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