MGM, Ameristar, Hard Rock among firms planning Mass. casino-resorts

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MGM Resorts International and Ameristar Casinos are acquiring property in Massachusetts in the wake of a recent decision by the state to award three gaming licenses throughout the commonwealth, and at least five other casino operators are believed to be proposing development projects.

MGM Resorts in January reached an agreement to acquire 150 acres just north of the Massachusetts Turnpike in Brimfield, about 65 miles west of Boston, for what the Las Vegas-based company has dubbed Rolling Hills Resort.

Ameristar late last month completed its $16 million purchase of a 41-acre property in Springfield, about 90 miles west of Boston, that was once the site of a Westinghouse factory but is now vacant.

Meanwhile, Hard Rock said in November that it was working on plans with a local developer for a resort-casino in Holyoke, about 10 miles north of Springfield.

In addition, Caesars Entertainment, Wynn Resorts and the Mohegan Tribe, which operates the 1,200-room Mohegan Sun and Spa hotel-casino resort in Connecticut, are also said to be proposing casino projects.

Representatives for Ameristar and Hard Rock declined to comment, while MGM Resorts didn't respond to a request for comment.

The flurry of interest follows the state's decision in late November to allow three gaming licenses for casino resorts -- one each in western Massachusetts, southeastern Massachusetts and the Boston area -- and one license for a slots-only facility.

Each resort developer will have to pay an $85 million license fee, invest at least $500 million and fork over 25% of gross gaming revenue to the commonwealth.

In December, Massachusetts appointed Stephen Crosby, who has served in various roles under Massachusetts governors since 2000 and has run a number of publishing companies, as chair of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and set a late-March deadline for appointing the rest of the commission.

Such resorts would serve drive-up visitors from around the New England area just as resort-casinos in nearby Connecticut attract patrons from both the Boston and New York areas.

Massachusetts officials, who declined to speak on record, said Crosby hadn't officially begun in his new position and couldn't be reached, estimating that the commonwealth wouldn't send out requests for proposal for the hotel-casinos until at least mid-2013.

Still, MGM Resorts, which operates the MGM Grand at Foxwoods in Connecticut, appears to be already trying to curry favor with the Massachusetts public. The company said last month that Rolling Hills would create 3,000 permanent jobs and last week hired New York-based architecture firm Gensler to design what the company says will be a more sustainable, environmentally friendly project.

Additionally, Caesars and Wynn Resorts are proposing hotel-casino developments in the Boston area, while the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is working on a development in the southeastern part of the commonwealth, according to the Boston Globe, which also said that the Mohegan Tribe is pitching a development in western Massachusetts. None of those four entities responded to requests for comment.

For hotel and hospitality news, follow Danny King on Twitter @dktravelweekly.

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