Communities already spending money trickling in from casinos

Fifteen communities have received roughly $5 million from the state's three licensed casino operators

Michael Mathis, right, president and COO of MGM Springfield Casino Resort speaks during a ground breaking ceremony for the $800 million MGM casino resort as James Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International looks on, left, Tuesday, March 24, 2015, in Springfield, Mass. The casino resort, the largest economic development project the region has seen in generations, is scheduled to open in 2017. Springfield's MGM is the first of three casino resorts expected to open in the state. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

BOSTON (AP) — The first casino hasn’t opened its doors, but some Massachusetts cities and towns already are spending gambling windfalls.

Fifteen communities have received roughly $5 million from the state’s three licensed casino operators as part of compensation agreements negotiated with the companies.

The payments range from more than $1 million to Springfield to $50,000 apiece to nearby Ludlow, Wilbraham, East Longmeadow and Holyoke.

The payments do not include property taxes, which some of the casino operators have started pay to host communities, or land sales that were needed to begin the developments.

Many communities have designated the casino money for road and intersection improvements to deal with the inevitable increase in traffic.

West Springfield, for example, is spending $665,000 from MGM Resorts International toward the reconstruction of Memorial Avenue, which will be a main access point to MGM’s planned $800 million casino in nearby Springfield.

Longmeadow is also using $850,000 from MGM on streets leading into Springfield. But Town Manager Stephen Crane doesn’t see it so much as a windfall: “We are going to be impacted by traffic and other things from the casino. The funds help, but they will not make the impacts go away. It just helps us manage it better.”

Other communities are finding unique ways to spend the money.

Medford is putting $250,000 from Wynn toward an estimated $1 million memorial to victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. Krystle Campbell, who died in the attack, was from the Boston suburb. Wynn is developing a $1.7 billion casino in nearby Everett.

In Plainville, which will be home to the slot parlor Plainridge Park, Town Administrator Joseph Fernandes wants to use the cash infusion to pay for so-called “other post-employment benefits” such as health care for retirees, which has not been adequately funded. That idea will go before voters at the annual town meeting later this year.

The southeastern Massachusetts town has received about $125,000 to date from developer Penn National Gaming and is eyeing about $4.2 million a year in taxes and other payments when the facility opens on June 24.

Springfield hopes to spend the bulk of its more than $1 million initial payment from MGM to jumpstart an early education initiative that’s still in development.

“Early childhood education is very difficult for a city to do on a large scale because you have to make such a long-term investment,” said Kevin Kennedy, Springfield’s chief development officer. “But, in this case, we know that they have a casino license for 15 years, so we can make that investment. It makes sense.”

Springfield expects about $700,000 in property taxes from MGM each year and at least $17.6 million in other payments on top of that, Kennedy said.

Some municipal leaders say they’re still not certain how they’ll spend the windfalls.

“Quite frankly, we have not designated anything specific to be funded with our initial payment,” said Malden Mayor Gary Christenson. “Once we are receiving our annual payments, I am sure there will be a more specific plan for this revenue.”

The Boston-area city received a $1 million initial payment from Wynn and expects just over $1 million annually from the company when the casino opens.

Not all communities affected by new gambling ventures have had the opportunity to plan new investments.

Casino payments for Everett, the host city for Wynn’s glitzy resort, for example, do not trigger until the project breaks ground. The working-class city is due a one-time, $30 million payout when construction starts and then about $25 million a year once the casino opens its doors. But the Wynn development has been delayed as it awaits state approval for its environmental cleanup plan for the former chemical plant site.

Boston, meanwhile, has refused a $1 million check from Wynn as it sues to stop the project. That money is being held in escrow by the state.

Copyright 2015 Associated Press

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