And now there is a chorus singing, “I told you so.”

The news that was reported by Bloomberg last week that MGM Resorts International is “exploring” selling its Ohio racino — a combined race track and casino — and MGM Springfield was greeted on social media and other outlets with the self-satisfied boasts of people who claim they knew this would happen.

The soothsayers are patting themselves on the back because they knew what was happening. Did you really?

Now, being the journalist who was labeled as “hating” MGM Springfield, I’m not among those who thought this venture would fail. I wanted it to succeed as too many jobs, too much revenue to the city and region is at stake.

Think about that for a minute. This announcement, if true, as MGM won’t confirm or deny the report, could affect thousands of people who work there as well as vendors who do business with the casino.

Several years ago, at the height of the casino selection process, I just didn’t drink the Kool-Aid they were serving like other people did, which is what got me into “trouble.” The casino was a risk. I knew that. Everyone should have known that.

The claims that were being made seemed just too good.

The success of a casino was based on the amount of expendable income people in the region had for gambling. Springfield is a high poverty city. Other neighboring communities also have high poverty rates. People certainly only have so much money for entertainment.

Look at the ancillary markets for the Springfield casino. There are competing casinos in western New York. Connecticut has two huge casinos that are both within driving distance of Springfield. Southern Vermont had a small population.

The fact the casino in Revere is doing better has a lot to do with being in a different and more affluent market serving several states: New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island.

Needless to say, the coronavirus pandemic did not help a business such as a casino. It killed many restaurants and damn near killed movie theaters, which are both far more mainstream businesses than casinos.

We’ve seen the restaurant industry rebound and people have returned to theaters, providing if there are movies they want to see they will come back. “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie” certainly proved that point.

MGM Springfield, though, took a very deliberate route to recovery. They slowly reopened their restaurants, which are still operating on a limited schedule. They have never reopened the former church building. The biggest addition is the sports booking area.

They have never met the hiring goals they established with the city.
MGM CEO Bill Hornbuckle came to town in January last year. He said, in the Reminder story reported by Matt Conway, “Our original valuation of this market simply was, off full stop … We thought there would be more business here than ultimately materialized.”

I repeat this quote with a sense of disbelief. Either the MGM brass didn’t do their homework before committing nearly a billion dollars to build the casino or they are just plain stupid.

Of course, elected officials are weighing into the news shared by the Bloomberg story. State Rep. Angelo Puppolo (D-Springfield) released a statement, “It’s evident to me that since day one MGM has not been fully committed to this project — look no further than the change in the high-rise hotel and shortened gaming space along with a short selection of restaurants and entertainment it’s clear that this was a placeholder for them.”

He added, “I’m optimistic that a new owner, maybe even local ownership, can make this the destination and resort style experience that our area deserves and was promised.”

Mayor Domenic J. Sarno stated, “I have spoken to MGM Resorts International CEO and President Bill Hornbuckle and he has agreed to meet with me in my office in the very near future to discuss the status of MGM Springfield. I assure you that my number one priority is protecting the interest of the city of Springfield.”

I don’t gamble, other than my twice-weekly Powerball ticket purchase. I’ve tried a slot machine once at MGM. It didn’t do much for me. I do go to the Regal Theater there regularly as it is very well-run and it’s a 10-minute drive from my house. My wife and I tried Chandler’s and did not care for the experience. TAP is acceptable, though. The food court offerings are mediocre and expensive, so we stick to our regular list of restaurants when we go out. The Lobby Bar is one of the best in the city and I’m glad they reopened it. MGM is a very mixed bag.

Just my opinion, by the way. Other people clearly enjoy the casino more and that’s fine.

When or if a sale happens is anyone’s guess. A sale would involve the state and the city. Questions for a new owners will be lobbed at them from both governments. The big question is whether or not the state or the city has learned anything from their dealings with MGM they would apply to a prospective new owner or will we be so desperate to make sure this business continue that we would agree to terms that may not be the best for either the state or the city.

Time will tell.

G. Michael Dobbs has worked for Reminder Publishing for 23 years of his nearly 50-year-career in the Western Mass. media scene, and previously served as the executive editor. He has spent his time with the publisher covering local politics, interesting people and events. The opinions expressed within the article are that of the author’s and do not represent the opinions and beliefs of the paper.