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Gary Trask

Gary  Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has worked as a writer and editor more than 20 years. The Boston native was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's inaugural Media Committee and a current member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame voting panel.

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Top 10 first impressions of the new MGM Springfield casino

24 Aug 2018

By Gary Trask
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Take it from someone who has lived here his entire life: The sun-splashed casino grand opening of MGM Springfield today was a B-I-G deal for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

It’s been seven long — and oftentimes painful — years since the Expanded Gaming Act was signed into law in Massachusetts by then-Gov. Deval Patrick. In between that fateful November day in 2011 and today’s unveiling of this lavish, $960 million property, there have been controversies, protests, referendums and finger-pointing. Three casino licenses were eventually granted — two for casino resorts and one for a slot hall — and today the first full-blown casino in Massachusetts opened its doors to great fanfare, with tens of thousands of people flooding the surrounding streets, trying to be among the first to sit at a slot machine or double down at the blackjack table.

Judging from the wide smiles of everyone from those very first guests who waited hours to enter to the dealers, bartenders and parking attendants, nobody was disappointed.

Heck, I think even the Budweiser Clydesdales that led the parade procession down Main Street were giddy.

“This is a big day,” said Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker at yesterday’s press conference. “This place is going to blow people away. Everybody I have spoken to that’s had a chance to see it agrees that it has widely exceeded all expectations . . . MGM has done everything they said they were going to do, and then some.”

Much like the impressive MGM National Harbor, which opened in the Washington, D.C. area in December 2016, MGM did not cut any corners on the 14-acre project in Springfield, the fourth-largest city in New England, located about a two-hour drive west of Boston and 75 miles north of Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut. The new casino gets a jump on Encore Boston Harbor, the $2.5 billion Wynn Resorts property that is rising over the Boston skyline as we speak, set to open in 2019. After that, a third casino resort is expected to open in Southeastern Massachusetts, but many questions remain.

So, for now, MGM Springfield is in the headlines in these parts, and after roaming the property, we present 10 of the hundreds of first impressions that struck us over the last 24 hours.

10. Prime location and ease of access
Don’t get me wrong: During the next few months, there are going to be heavy crowds and probably lots of traffic. But for the most part, MGM Springfield is easy to get to, located a few minutes off the Massachusetts Turnpike. It sits smack dab in the middle of the city, and MGM has partnered with local businesses, such as the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, and is offering a free bus service called the Loop that will make stops at various museums and attractions in and around Springfield.

And if you don’t want to shell out the weekend rates, which are as high as $599 per night at MGM Springfield’s 250-room boutique hotel, there are plenty of other quality hotel options in the area that are a short Uber ride away, and much more reasonably priced.

9. Employee pride

MGM Springfield hired 3,000 employees and reported that 35% of them are from Springfield. Speaking to some of the employees that call this area home, I heard a great sense of pride about working for a company that has invested deeply in revitalizing this city.

One 29-year-old blackjack dealer I sat with on Thursday night is from nearby South Hadley. He said he had spent his entire life as a contractor and was growing weary of the physical toll it was taking on his body.

“When I heard the casino was coming here, I went to dealer school at night, applied to be a dealer and once I got it, I quit my job banging nails all day,” he said. “It’s exciting. Look at this place. Who wouldn’t want to come to work here every day?”

8. Delectable food offerings
Foodies will delight in the range of offerings MGM Springfield presents, with everything from an upscale venue (The Chandler Steakhouse, site of the former Chandler Union Hotel, which was built in 1846) to a corner full of quick-and-casual eats (South End Market).

After doing our best to sample each and every one of the nine dining options, our favorites were many, including the tomato-based risotto and thick-crust pizza slices at Cal Mare, the clam chowder and lobster rolls at Jack’s Lobster Shack, the Lobster Grilled Cheese at TAP Sports Bar and the mouthwatering pistachio nut gelato at Gelato & Espresso.

Best advice: Small plates at multiple venues. You won’t go hungry.

7. Cocktails abound (including one with a $25,000 price tag)
Of course, we had to wash down all of the above with something, right?

The most impressive spot for cocktails is inside the high-limit gaming area and called Knox Bar, named after Henry Knox, who built the historic Springfield Armory (more on that later) and for whom Fort Knox is named. It’s truly one of those places that immediately gives you the urge to order a scotch and plunk down for hours.

In addition to an impressive beer menu sprinkled with local offerings, TAP Sports Bar serves up a massive video wall featuring 32 screens, an arcade, a 10-lane big ball bowling alley, billiards, shuffleboard, air hockey and foosball.

Then there’s Commonwealth Bar and Lounge’s exquisite menu of cocktails, including the Indian Sidecar, which costs $25,000 (not a misprint) and comes with a bottle of 1901 single vintage Croizet cognac, Grand Marnier Quintessence, fresh lemon, gold sugar rim on the glass, and (wait for it . . .) an Indian motorcycle.

Since that wasn’t going to fly on the old expense report, best option was the Commonwealth Sidecar, mixed with Hennessy XO cognac and, sadly, no motorcycle, for $25.

6. Hotel lobby

Simply put, this is one of the most unique and welcoming hotel lobbies I’ve ever seen. First off, there’s a full bar, which is always a nice start, and it's surrounded by robust bookshelves filled with real books. According to MGM, the “inventive menu boasts cocktails inspired by classic novels and literary tales to match the venue’s library aesthetics.”

There is a Starbucks adjacent to the lobby area and plenty of seating, whether you want to sit at one of the hightops with a charging station and fire up your laptop or land on one of the comfy sofas.

A rare instance when you almost won’t mind if your room isn’t ready upon arrival.

5. Movies and golf
Casino properties new and old are placing a heavy emphasis on nongaming amenities, and MGM Springfield is no different. The seven-screen Regal luxury cinema at MGM Springfield is not your father’s movie theater. Full bar (again!), traditional movie eats, out-of-this-world comfy, reclining leather chairs and state-of-the-art sound systems make this venue the perfect place to escape the sounds of slot machines for a few hours.

Downstairs from the theater sits the first Topgolf Suite to come to the New England market. The 2,800-square-foot high-tech golf simulation experience has three bays and a full bar. This is the third Topgolf experience within the MGM Resorts’ portfolio, the others being the massive flagship venue at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino Las Vegas and the Topgolf Swing Suite at MGM Detroit. Last week, it was announced The M Resort in Las Vegas will be opening in September, and the new Ocean Resort Casino in Atlantic City features the largest Topgolf Swing Suite, weighing in at 26,000 square feet with staggering views of the Atlantic Ocean, 11 hitting bays, and a laser-technology virtual putting green. Suffice to say, Topgolf is invading the casino market and it appears to be a classic marriage made in heaven.

4. Poker room with a Rolls-Royce feel

Ah, yes. There is actually some gambling going on at MGM Springfield. Aside from the 125,000-square-foot casino floor featuring more than 2,000 slot machines and 120 gaming tables, the 23-table poker room with 16 TVs was bustling minutes after the grand opening Friday morning.

Each seat at every table has a mobile phone docking station, and I was told on Thursday night that the leather chairs are modeled after the seats found in a Rolls-Royce, the British automaker that opened a plant in Springfield in 1920.

There was a wide selection of games available, and once the grand opening rush is over, the room expects to start offering daily tournaments, most likely by late September.

3. Terrace with a view
On the second floor of the casino, around the corner from the cinema and adjacent to the spa and salon, there is 34,000 square feet of meeting and convention space.

The space is split up into sections, each named after an MGM property, including the ARIA Ballroom, Beau Rivage Boardroom and Bellagio Ballroom. But the highlight of this area is the 6,200-square-foot outdoor terrace that runs the length of the meeting space rooms, providing a perfect and intimate setting for cocktail hour, overlooking the stunning Armory Square.

Bringing us to . . .

2. The Armory

From 1777 to 1968, the Springfield Armory was one of the first factories in the U.S. dedicated to the manufacture of weapons. It was originally built for the Massachusetts Militia and later used by the Massachusetts National Guard. Today, it is one of the focal points of MGM Springfield, with a classic New England town feel, straight out of a John Updike novel.

The space is being used as an outdoor event space, with pop-up art galleries, seasonal events, concerts and seating with fire pits. In the winter, there will be an outdoor ice skating rink.

(Speaking of entertainment, since MGM was not allowed to build its own performance venue on-site, it partnered with existing halls such as the 8,000-seat MassMutual Center and the 2,500-seat Symphony Hall. Stevie Wonder plays at the MassMutual Center on 1 September.)

1. Remembering the past
New England is known for its history, and Springfield is most definitely a city with rich history. It has been called "The City of Firsts," producing not only America's first armory, but reportedly its first monkey wrench and dictionary as well. It's where the game of basketball was invented and where Milton Bradley created the first popular American board game, Life.

It is even the very first city to be called Springfield.

All of these historic items and many more were duly noted and remembered as MGM designed and built the property.

For instance, in order to clear the land for the site, MGM moved The First Spiritualist Church, a High Victorian Gothic church built almost 130 years ago, about 500 feet and transformed it into Kringles Emporium, a boutique shop just outside the Armory that offers its signature ultra-fragrant, pure-burning candles, dessert and coffee.

MGM also partnered with five Springfield Museums to display exhibits found all over the resort.

"It was has always been our goal to honor, reflect and inspire the spirit of Springfield," said Michael Mathis, the president and CEO of MGM Springfield. "We are standing on land that was ravaged by a tornado in 2011. But Mother Nature didn't know what she was up against. Today, we dedicate the opening of this building to the hard-working, resilient people of Springfield."

Added Gov. Baker, "This building is incredibly Springfield-centric. There are so many elements of this place that are subtle, but speaking loudly about the commitment that was made to honor the history of Springfield and all that makes this part of Massachusetts so special."
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