MGM Springfield opens Friday in Massachusetts

To New Englanders, Friday’s opening of MGM Springfield in Massachusetts is huge.

Newspaper accounts have raved about how big the place is.

But by Las Vegas standards, MGM Springfield has a feel closer to a neighborhood casino than a Bellagio.

Massachusetts’ entry into the casino-resort era with the first of two entries from Las Vegas-based companies will be marked by an employee parade led by the Budweiser Clydesdales past a 600-pound MGM lion at the entrance.

The 125,000-square-foot casino — that’s about the size of the Aliante casino — will have 120 table games and 2,550 slot machines, a poker room and a high-limit VIP area.

The six-story hotel has 250 rooms, which will go for $219 a night. The hotel motif is an homage to Springfield’s industrial roots with Edison bulb fixtures and factory-style paned glass. Look around and you’ll see depictions of Indian motorcycles which were once manufactured in Springfield.

And let’s get this out right from the top because it seems this is what people around here care about most: Parking will be free at the new MGM Springfield, and the company is encouraging visitors to downtown Springfield to use its seven-story, 3,400-space parking garage when they shop or have dinner in the neighborhood.

The company is hoping to draw customers from Hartford, Connecticut; Albany, New York; Providence, Rhode Island — all within 150 miles — and Boston and Worcester, Massachusetts. Wynn Resorts Ltd.’s plush Encore Boston Harbor opens in the middle of next year.

The $960 million casino is expected to compete immediately with two big tribal casinos in Connecticut: Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, some 75 miles away.

Massachusetts only approved commercial casino gambling in 2011. The first slot machine parlor opened by Penn National at Plainridge Park harness racing track in 2015.

MGM Springfield will have a small bowling center with 10 lanes, and there is a Topgolf Swing Suite. A seven-screen Regal Cinema movie theater complex is a part of the 2 million-square-foot campus.

Western Massachusetts’ four-seasons climate will give MGM Springfield the opportunity to produce a variety of events in outdoor areas around the casino.

The 131-year-old deconsecrated First Spiritual Church, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was moved to the casino campus from its original location in the city as part of the city’s casino development project.

An open-air plaza near the church and the casino will become an entertainment hub that will feature food carts, live music, car shows, outdoor games, strolling entertainers, yoga-and-beer nights, a pop-up art gallery, a sports bar, and a bench designed by Danish artist Jeppe Hein that is an interactive work of art.

There’s a Labor Day cornhole tournament scheduled; a weekly farmer’s market is planned; in the winter months, the area will be converted to an ice-skating rink.

As for entertainment, Springfield’s biggest venue is right across the street from MGM, and the company is collaborating to bring events there.

Upcoming shows at the 8,000-seat MassMutual Center include “The Comedy Get Down” with Cedric the Entertainer, Eddie Griffin, D.L. Hughley and George Lopez; country star Aaron Lewis, who hails from western Massachusetts; “A Symphonic Celebration of Prince”; and resident Las Vegas performer Stevie Wonder.

MGM’s experience with the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena will have a minor-league cousin at Springfield as the MassMutual Center is the home of the Springfield Thunderbirds, an American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL’s Florida Panthers.

After-concert eats and drinks are in the casino with The Chandler Steakhouse, Michael Mina’s Cal Mare, South End Market, Tap Sports Bar and the ubiquitous casino staple Starbucks.

A free electric bus service will deliver customers to MGM and other Springfield tourism hot spots, including the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, from several Springfield hotels.

Alcoholic beverage service is a little different from Las Vegas casinos. State policy dictates that the casino is allowed to provide alcohol until 4 a.m., but it will be served in different cups after 2 a.m. and is to be sold only to those participating in gaming. Other restaurants and bars in the casino will close at 2 a.m.

And one more big difference from Las Vegas: State law prohibits smoking in the casino.

And, per MGM sustainability policy, plastic straws only by request.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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