The competition for the sole resort casino license in western Massachusetts intensified Thursday, as MGM Resorts International announced a plan to purchase 150 acres of land in the small town of Brimfield.
The Las Vegas casino company said it would seek to develop a "world-class resort" on the site, some 65 miles from Boston near the Massachusetts Turnpike.
"When we decided to get actively involved in Massachusetts, we scoured the state for a location that would provide the rural setting that New Englanders want," said Jim Murren, chairman and chief executive of MGM Resorts, in a statement announcing the plan. "The remote nature of this property, along with its proximity to the Mass Pike, is exactly what we had in mind."
The company, which owns several luxury casinos on the Las Vegas strip, including Bellagio, MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay, said it had signed a contract with Rolling Hills Estates Realty Trust to purchase the wooded parcel that is adjacent to the turnpike but has no direct access from the highway. MGM Resorts said initial plans for the casino included construction of a new off-ramp from the turnpike.
The company estimated the development, tentatively named Rolling Hills Resort, would create 3,000 permanent jobs along with several thousand construction-related jobs.
The state's new casino gambling law would allow three resort casinos in Massachusetts, along with one slots parlor. One of the three casino licenses would be reserved for western Massachusetts, and it appears there will be no shortage of suitors.
Mohegan Sun, which operates a casino in neighboring Connecticut, has proposed a facility in the neighboring town of Palmer.
Paul Burns, president of the Palmer Town Council, said he welcomed the competition from MGM.
"Their interest creates an environment of intense competition that will invigorate the casino debate in this area and ensure world-class proposals that will provide the strongest economic development opportunity in the Commonwealth," said Burns, who added several reasons for why he believed Palmer would be the stronger choice.
Unlike the Brimfield site, he said the Palmer site would have direct access from an existing turnpike exit. He also said the Palmer proposal enjoyed strong community support and would not require a change in town zoning, unlike Brimfield, where a two-thirds vote of town meeting would be needed to change zoning laws to allow for a casino.
Also in western Massachusetts, Ameristar Casinos Inc. has expressed interest in developing a casino in Springfield and Hard Rock International is eyeing a potential site in Holyoke.
David Callahan, a West Brookfield resident who is a principal in the realty trust that owns the Brimfield site, said he first broached the idea of partnering with a casino operator during a meeting with the town's board of selectmen in October and has continued to sound out town officials and residents in the months since.
Murren said MGM would listen carefully to the ideas and thoughts of local residents before finalizing their plans. The new law requires that voters in a host community approve of a casino proposal in a referendum before a license can be granted.
The company said it would open an office in the town on Thursday.
According to records from the Massachusetts Secretary of State's office, MGM Resorts International paid $60,000 to Brown Rudnick LLP for lobbying services at the Statehouse during the second half of 2011. The casino bill was passed by the Legislature in November and signed into law by Gov. Deval Patrick.