Hard Rock Casino Proposal Unveiled for West Springfield’s Big “E”

A third major casino company applied today for the sole gambling license the state will award in western Massachusetts. Hard Rock International announced it wants to develop a 7-to-800-million dollar casino at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield. As New England Public Radio’s Fred Bever reports, that sets up competition with the city of Springfield, just across the Connecticut river, where M-G-M Resorts and Penn National Gaming have each proposed a downtown casino.

At an event at the Big E, president Eugene Cassidy said that its 17-day agricultural fair already fills neighboring Springfield’s hotels – and a Hard Rock casino would only add patrons for Springfield’s hotels. 

“At the same time a casino development a thousand yards down the road, over the bridge, will threaten our capacity to host the myriad of events and trade shows that we are known for and depend upon for the revenues that sustain us. A casino a thousand yards over the bridge will imperil the existence of this very institution.”

Hard Rock officials say the company would occupy 40 acres, and would finance improvements to rest of the 175-acre grounds of the Big-E, which was established in 1916. But neither party would disclose the terms of the lease that’s been negotiated. Both said it would be a surmountable challenge to handle parking and traffic during the September fair. 

Hard Rock International Chairman Jim Allen says the Big-E’s long experience with event management gives it a leg up with the M-G-M and Penn National proposals in Springfield:

“When we look at the competition, and how they are landlocked, based upon restrictions in the parcels that they’ve announced.. with 175 acres here, and almost 40 of it dedicated to this amazing new resort, we believe this partnership is the true success as far as what our elected officials believed when they approved gaming for Massachusetts and specifically for western Massachusetts.”

West Springfield Mayor Gregory Neffinger announced the appointment of a special local gaming commission to consider the proposal. Asked whether he supported it, Neffinger said he saw the resort’s potential,  but it was a matter for city residents to decide.