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Editorial: Springfield’s casino choice

A big global company is promising to pay the city of Springfield more than $25 million a year. Much must happen before City Hall sees any of that dough, but casino money has sure been flowing in Hampden County.

On its way to being chosen last week as Springfield’s preferred casino developer, MGM Resorts International spent $10 million to curry favor and shoulder aside its rival for a Springfield location, Penn National Gaming. MGM can be expected to keep shelling out gifts and favors, for it still needs to win a community referendum this summer. And then next year, it must prevail over other gambling companies vying to win the lone western Massachusetts casino allowed under terms of the state’s 2011 gambling law.

All the dollar amounts noted so far pale in comparison with the money MGM and two other outfits, Mohegan Sun and Hard Rock International, stand to make from securing a geographic monopoly for a casino.

MGM says it will lay out $800 million to build its facility on 14.5 acres in Springfield’s South End. Once up and running, should its bid prevail, MGM estimates that after it opens three summers from now, it will take in $450 million a year in revenue.

We can all expect MGM to argue that it is the only resort casino project that is pursuing economic development goals in the heart of a western Massachusetts urban center. It is a solid argument, because economic growth and job creation were the main reasons Massachusetts lawmakers overcame a historic aversion to gambling and set this process in motion after an awful lot of flailing about.

Until the Massachusetts Gaming Commission makes its choice next year, the pre-casino money tree will continue to sprout wealth in Hampden County — as Hard Rock presses a plan for West Springfield and Mohegan Sun sells the merits of its Palmer location. Penn National may yet emerge with a new location, now that its preferred site in Springfield’s North End — including land occupied by the Springfield Republican newspaper — is an also-ran.

As his company bowed out, a Penn National spokesman said something that invites a between-the-lines reading. Eric Schippers suggested that Penn National’s offer was realistic, not an over-reach. “As a company well known for its disciplined approach to new development opportunities, we put forth the very best package we felt we could justify from a shareholder return perspective,” he said.

Our translation: Their rival is paying too much and will struggle to make the numbers work later.

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