Three firms submit western Mass. hotel-casino proposals

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MGM Resorts International, Penn National Gaming and Ameristar Casinos have each proposed hotel-casino projects in or near Springfield, Mass., worth at least $800 million each, in their quest to obtain the single gaming license that Massachusetts plans to give out for the western part of the state by early 2014.

Last month, Ameristar and Penn National both pitched resorts that would include 500-room luxury hotels. Ameristar Springfield, which would cost an estimated $910 million and would sit on a 40-acre property the company bought in January, would also include a 150,000-square-foot casino with 3,300 slot machines.

Penn National's $807 million Hollywood Casino Springfield called for a 300,000-square-foot casino as well as a so-called "village square" component that would include retail and restaurants.

Both of those projects would appear to usurp one proposed in August by MGM Resorts International, the largest of the three bidders. MGM proposed the smallest casino, at 89,000 square feet, as part of an $800 million project unveiled in August that would have 250 hotel rooms as well as 200,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. MGM Resorts had previously looked at Brimfield, about 25 miles east of Springfield, as a possible resort site.

Additionally, Hard Rock International had expressed interest in the prospective western Massachusetts license before deciding to drop out of the running last month.

Ameristar says its land ownership and location would give it as much as an 18-month head start over competing projects in terms of when construction would begin, while Penn National CEO Peter Carlino said the company's previous experience in building urban casinos makes it "the ideal partner in a renaissance for Springfield's downtown area."

The three companies are bidding for one of Massachusetts' first gaming licenses under a plan allowing for 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. On Oct. 19, the state put out its first request for gaming-license applications, mandating a $400,000 nonrefundable application fee and giving potential applicants a deadline of Jan. 15.

The state expects to grant its first gaming licenses by February 2014.

For the Massachusetts projects, each resort developer will have to pay an $85 million license fee, invest at least $500 million in their projects and fork over 25% of gross gaming revenue to the state.

Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby estimated last year that casinos might ultimately generate as much as $350 million a year in annual gaming taxes.

Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts, whose market value of about $5.2 billion is about 70% more than Penn National's and about eight times the size of Ameristar's, has properties in Detroit; Biloxi and Tunica, Miss.; Macau; and in Sanya, China, in addition to Las Vegas.

Penn National has hotels, casinos and racetracks in 18 U.S. states. The company's Hollywood Casino Toledo, developed by a joint venture that also includes Caesars, became Ohio's first casino when it opened in May.

Ameristar, which operates eight hotel-casinos in the Midwest and South, is planning to open its Lake Charles, La., hotel-casino in 2014.

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