3 developers vie for Springfield, Mass., casino

BOB SALSBERG, Associated Press

BOSTON -- Three companies seeking to develop a resort casino in Springfield submitted applications Thursday to the western Massachusetts city, and a fourth that had previously expressed interest declined to enter the competition.

Penn National Gaming Inc., which unveiled details of an $807 million casino plan earlier in the day, MGM Resorts International and Ameristar Casinos Inc. met the Thursday 5 p.m. application deadline set by city officials, who are expected to select one proposal to put before voters.

Hard Rock International did not apply. The company had also been eyeing Springfield after dropping an earlier proposal to develop a casino in Holyoke after opposition from the mayor of that city.

Kevin Kennedy, Springfield's economic development director, said the three companies that met the deadline also submitted $50,000 application fees that will help cover transportation studies and other costs associated with the city's review of the casino proposals.

Mayor Domenic Sarno and other city officials had earlier predicted at least four and as many as six would-be casino developers, but Kennedy said he was not disappointed that fewer applied.

"To get three is a great accomplishment," said Kennedy, who noted that the proposals were all unique and would be situated in different parts of the city.

Penn National Gaming said was seeking to build a casino and hotel project on a parcel that is now home to a newspaper and a bus terminal. The company _ in partnership with Peter Picknelly, the chairman and chief executive of Springfield-based Peter Pan Bus Lines _ is proposing a 300,000-square-foot casino and a 300- to 500-room hotel on 13.4 acres of land off Interstate 91 in the city's North End.

The project, which would be called Hollywood Casino Springfield, would include up to 3,500 slot machines and at least 100 poker and other table games. The company said it also planned several restaurants and space for conventions.

The plan calls for relocating the offices of The Republican newspaper to a newly-renovated location in downtown Springfield and building a new printing plant for the newspaper. The existing Peter Pan bus terminal would be moved to Union Station.

Peter Carlino, chairman and chief executive of Wyomissing, Pa.-based Penn National Gaming, said in a statement that the casino plan would contribute to a "renaissance" for Springfield's downtown and deliver "thousands of new permanent jobs, significant union construction jobs, and millions of tax dollars to the region."

Penn National Gaming operates more than two dozen gambling facilities in the U.S. and Canada. It opened the Hollywood Casino Columbus in Ohio's capital earlier this month.

In August, MGM International proposed an $800 million resort casino on 10 acres of downtown land that had sustained extensive damage in a June 2011 tornado.

Ameristar Casinos, the only potential developer that currently owns land in Springfield, bought a former industrial site off Interstate 291 for $16 million earlier this year.

A spokesman for Hard Rock did not immediately return a call seeking comment. There have been reports the company may turn its attention to eastern Massachusetts.

Springfield announced a selection process in August to weigh the multiple casino proposals it was expecting to receive.

Kennedy said officials will conduct a preliminary review by Oct. 31 to determine if the three applicants are qualified to move on to a more thorough review. While city officials have not ruled out presenting more than one proposal to voters, "we'd like one to rise to the top," he said.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission will make the final decision on awarding the sole casino operating license for western Massachusetts, one of three regional licenses allowed under the state's 11-month-old casino law.

The company that emerges from the Springfield competition will likely have to compete with Mohegan Sun, which is seeking a resort casino in the town of Palmer.