Experts Consider the Impact of Casino Contender Commitments

As casino companies work out the details of host-community agreements, concerns are being expressed about how those companies will make their investments count once the state’s gaming commission awards the single license available to Western Massachusetts.

Before it decided to drop its proposal for a Springfield casino last fall, Ameristar had already spent sixteen million dollars on land in Springfield. Clyde Barrow is the director of the center for policy analysis at UMass Dartmouth. He says that’s just the cost of doing business in the casino industry.

“The reality is when you’re dealing with companies that routinely deal in billions or tens of billions of dollars each year, it’s not a significant investment to them up front.”

He says the two companies vying for a casino in Springfield are proposing resorts that move customers into the community, linking them to other urban development projects. He says that’s a newer model that draws more on community investments– like MGM’s five-million dollars in proposed improvements to buildings in Springfield’s south end and Penn National’s proposal to revitalize the city’s historic Paramount theater.

But Robert Goodman, a retired Hampshire College and UMass professor who’s written a book about how states use casinos to bolster economic development — says in many cases, casinos don’t end up delivering on these kinds of promises.

“Casinos are willing to provide all kinds of sweeteners to a community in order to get their foot in the door. Because once they’re there they have no competition — at least local competition.”

Barrow says Springfield’s two proposals are similar to three casinos in Detroit — where companies have incorporated redeveloped buildings in designs and partnered with local businesses to try to bring casino patrons into the rest of the city. He says those initiatives are works in progress.