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Casino executive to address Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce

To that end, the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce is hosting Mitchell Etess, chief executive officer for Mohegan Sun, as its keynote speaker for its annual meeting and luncheon at the Lord Jeffery Inn, 30 Boltwood Walk, Wednesday at noon.

“It is important that the chamber help educate our members and the public at large about the positive or negative economic and social impacts that a resort casino will have in our region,” said Larry Archey, president of the chamber’s board of directors.

Archey said he believes the event will be a good chance for people to better understand what the future looks like when a casino is built nearby.

Etess is expected to outline his company’s proposal for a $600 million casino in Palmer and answer questions from members of the chamber and the public, said Tony Maroulis, executive director of the chamber.

The Mohegan Sun proposal is one of four expected to be submitted to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission by Tuesday’s deadline. The other three proposals are from MGM Grand International and Penn National Gaming, with competing $800 million casino concepts for Springfield, and Hard Rock International, which is interested in placing a casino on a parcel at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield.

Just three resort casino licenses are available statewide and only one will be issued for western Massachusetts. Any proposal must also be approved by voters in the host community at a municipal election.

Maroulis said many business owners want more information as casinos continue to dominate the news in western Massachusetts over the next year.

“What does that mean to our community and should we be concerned? Those are valid questions,” Maroulis said.

While he is interested in hearing about all the proposals, it’s the Palmer casino that Maroulis said could have the greatest potential impact on Amherst.

He noted that the only buffer between Amherst and Palmer is Belchertown and the passenger train that continues to use the Amherst train station travels through Palmer every day. Students might be enticed to leave Amherst to visit the casino, he said.

The Mohegan plan includes slot machines and gaming tables, a luxury hotel and restaurants and shops on 152 acres near the Massachusetts Turnpike.

The chamber has not taken a position for or against casinos in general or any of the specific proposals.

Maroulis said the jobs created by the hotel and restaurants at a resort casino could be a big concern for businesses in Amherst and Hadley, where the bulk of members are located.

“There could be questions for the hospitality and restaurant industry in terms of staffing,” Maroulis said.

But there could be benefits, as well. Maroulis said Amherst is a place with unique dining and retail destinations that could be an appealing alternative to the casino.

“It presents another competition, but we could strategically position ourselves as less corporate,” Maroulis said. “There’s opportunities with this.”

Maroulis said with Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods already in Connecticut, and three casinos to be built in Massachusetts, the big question is whether there are enough people to make all the casinos profitable.

“Where does the saturation point come in for casinos in the northeast? Is there a limit to what our population can bear?” Maroulis said.

Admission for the luncheon, which includes a full meal, is $25 for chamber members and $30 for nonmembers.

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