By Vin Gallo, Gage Nutter and Jill Campbell
It’s an early September midday on Route 91.
You usually push the accelerator to a cheap, five, 10 miles per hour over the commanded limit of 65. But there’s nobody in front of you, and Spotify hooked up to the aux is compelling you to gas it at 80. While cruising along the fringe of Massachusetts’ third largest city, you steal a gaze to your right.
As Drake’s gem of a track in ‘Nonstop’ pulses through you for the 500th time since July, the track’s bass in your ears blends perfectly with your sight of another swagger-filled wonder born in the same summer haze. A regal image of a roaring lion beneath the bright and bolded words of ‘MGM Springfield’ is staring back at you.
The three week old casino, which opened on August 24, is officially here, primed to be a weekend hotspot for both working people and college students throughout the city.
Maybe, just maybe, if you had taken exit 6, you could have been one of the first to break in some of the slot machines. Oh well. There’s always the next trip back.
Since 1968, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has sat on Hall of Fame Avenue, serving as a staple Springfield location for decades. But the history museum has a new neighbor.
MGM Springfield peeks beyond Route 91’s highway underpass and alongside East Columbus Avenue’s bustling roadway, less than a mile from the Hall of Fame’s rhombus studded silver basketball dome.
The color and gusto of the grounds catches the eye, yet keeps a modest undertone. Sure, there’s the Vegas inspired lights heading the casino and valet parking; gold, bold, with a crimson red found on every Hollywood carpet. Yet MGM still refrains from imposing a spirit that separates it from Springfield itself, and there is unique reason how this is accomplished.
When MGM Springfield was built, there was a point made to avoid any demolition or take away from historic attention. There was a goal to make sure new stood with old, hand-in-hand.
106 years ago, in 1912, the United Electric Company offices were built on 73 State Street. It was one of the first companies to supply electricity to Springfield and later became the largest supplier in Western Mass. in the ‘40s. The establishment was sold by United Electric in the 1960s.
Over time, as the building grew older, it faded amongst the city’s new architecture and advancements. For some time, it seemed to exist as an afterthought. But no longer. While surveying a patio beneath burnt orange canopy, passersby walking down 73rd nowadays can refer to United Electric as 73 South End Market. It was restored and incorporated into MGM Springfield during the 2017 construction. United Electric’s brick and limestone still invitingly sits, coaxing people with the promise of South End Market’s assortment of noodles, lobster, gelato, and espresso.
The casino has kept more than United Electric’s existence alive, however. Chandler Hotel on Main Street has been standing since the 1800s. The same building, a site where both presidents James K. Polk and James Buchanan were once accommodated, is still going strong, 85 years following the hotel shutdown. These days it shares Main Street with both MGM’s steakhouse and salon.
The Kringle Emporium can be found just off Union Street on the casino’s premises. It’s a shop for anyone searching to enjoy a bevy of sweets, milkshakes or caffé. Lining the shelves beside the order counter are scented candles, categorized in a variety of color, yet all sharing a dark or gothic tint. It’s consistent with the Emporium’s Victorian looking design, which was once a French Congregational Church during the late-1800s.
Next door to Kringle Emporium, the Springfield Armory still stands mere yards away from Red Rose Pizza off Main Street. The restaurant provides a distant aroma of cheese and sauce baked over bread, while the castle-like structure in all its brown and gray stone glory, overlooks MGM’s Armory Square, a chill space that is scented with both alcohol and burning cigarettes on the weekends.
On the corner of Main Street, right before Howard Street becomes Armory Square, there is a large black plaque commemorating the birth of MGM Springfield. Below the figure of its iconic lion, there is small text that reads, “est. 2018.” One might say such detail is redundant now. But with each passing year, MGM Springfield itself will slowly become one with Springfield’s history. The casino’s presence does not halt at its entrance. Its character is not found off the city streets. Rather it is among them, ingrained within the city’s fabric.
Behind one of Springfield’s most well-known restaurants, Red Rose Pizzeria, is an attraction that is sure to be another one of the city’s landmark sites in the years to come.
The Plaza at the MGM Springfield is a place that encourages socialization. Once patrons make the turn off of Main Street towards the plaza, they are greeted by a screen that covers a large part of the buildingside. During The Student’s trip, the screen projected a couple of the day’s NFL football games. There are chairs and benches scattered around the courtyard that give people the opportunity to get comfortable and watch the games.
During The Student’s trip, there was upwards of 70 people watching the end of the New England Patriots game against the Houston Texans. The crowd let out a harmonious cheer and clapped together when the Texans threw an incompletion to clinch the Patriots’ victory.
There are towers constructed with speakers, each around eight feet tall, that project sound from the broadcasts to give people watching an immersive feeling. The projection screen covers a large chunk of a building that houses an arcade and the newly-constructed TAP Sports Bar. One of the sports bar’s entrances is strategically located right under the screen; the arcade is located to the left of the bar.
To the right of the bar is a pair of double doors that give easy access to the casino floor and the rest of what the MGM has to offer. The roof of the casino has restaurant seating that gives a great view of not only the courtyard, but of the Springfield skyline.
When it comes to the heart of the place — the casino, MGM hasn’t reinvented the wheel as it relates to layout. But the way that the casino floor is laid out creates an environment that draws patrons into the action and, more importantly, keeps them there.
Once casino-goers walk through one of the area’s many double-door entrances, there are a lot of stimuli to take in. For what seems like miles, there are rows upon rows of slot machines. Each with different themes and strobing colored lights to pull patrons in. Paired with the stunning visuals that are made visible upon entry is the area’s music soundbed that sits beneath the action and sets a lively mood that is well-suited for gambling and having a good time.
In addition to the slot machines’ flashy appearance, the chairs that come paired with the slot machines are extremely comfortable and help make for a comfy gambling experience. A rough estimate would say that at least 75 percent of the casino floor is covered with these slot machines, and for good reason. During The Student’s visit on Sunday, all of the slot machines in service were getting plenty of use from multiple patrons.
All of the machines form an outer core around what is housed in the center of the casino floor; the table games. The epicenter houses classic casino staples like blackjack, craps, roulette and more.
Judging by the way everything is laid out, MGM Springfield seems to understand that one of the main things that might pull patrons away from the casino floor is hunger. The company’s group of interior designers did a great job of minimizing this problem with its food and drink layout.
In almost every corner, and even in the center of the casino floor, there are food and drink options readily available. The floor’s biggest concentration of food is in the corner of the casino. This section is named the “South End Market.” The area houses food stops like Jack’s Lobster Shack, Bill’s Diner, Wicked Noodles, Hearth Grill and a spot for gelato and espresso. In the opposite corner of the casino is the TAP Sports Bar. The place has the classic layout with over a dozen televisions set to games around the bar and elsewhere, but the dining area seems to be bigger than most sports bars. This additional seating, which is in close proximity to several televisions, will give patrons plenty of room to indulge on food, drinks and sporting events.
In the middle of the casino floor, alongside the table games, is the Commonwealth Bar and Lounge. The area is, of course, in close proximity to the slot machines and card tables, which makes it easy for patrons to stop in for a quick drink before jumping back into the fray.
Potentially the place’s biggest and best food attraction is located in the corner of the casino floor near the hotel lobby. The Chandler Steakhouse provides a high-class eating experience with a beautiful first-rate dining room and serves tasty delicacies; Roasted Bone Marrow, Traditional Steak Tartare and Jonah Crab Cake to name a few. If you’re feeling fancy and don’t mind flashing some of your newly acquired money from the casino, The Chandler Steakhouse will be the perfect spot for you.
Bright lights, strong drinks, jingling of change, the pulling down of a lever in hopes of hearing a high-pitched buzzer to follow – a chance to hit it big is enticing to young and old alike. None more, however, than the person with a slim wallet and thousands of dollars owed (plus interest). A casino is a playground for risk and reward, and thus, a college student’s dream.
For some students at Springfield College, the completion of the MGM Resort and Casino was starting to sound like a pipe dream. Safety orange colored detour signs seemingly put down roots amongst the streets downtown, police officers littered on each corner directing traffic, both serving as a reminder that something was coming – but when?
On the eve of Aug. 24, Springfield College senior Kasey Harrington was fastening her heels to prepare for a night out in celebration of a friend’s 21st birthday. Knowing they’d be in the Springfield area but not looking to hit up the same humdrum locations as usual, it was just her luck that MGM was holding its grand unveiling the following night. And upon her arrival, Harrington learned that the night would have more in store than she could have expected.
“Walking into the casino made me forget I was even in Springfield,” Harrington remarked. “It was gorgeous.”
The party then made their way into the Commonwealth Bar and Lounge, where they were immediately approached by a hostess and offered an evening in the VIP section. Elated, the group followed to a dimly lit area equipped with couches for lounging, a curtain for privacy, and a bottle of champagne with a decorative sparkler sizzling on top.
Whether the spread was an effort to drum up promotion or simply an act of celebratory kindness, her interactions with the MGM employees left an impression on Harrington.
“I was surprised by the customer service. I expected the employees to be super stressed out and everything to get hectic, but it all seemed to be running smoothly. Everyone was very polite and smiling,” she said.
For some students, however, the same anticipation and excitement is not shared. Being underage and not having the opportunity to experience the club scene at MGM retracts from the overall appeal, and gambling while already being strapped for cash can seem like too much of a risk. Others, having yet to experience all that is MGM, are only experiencing one of its most lackluster side effects – the worsening of the already undesirable downtown chaos.
A part-time employee at WEEI Springfield on Main Street, Kevin Pereira has already been feeling the effects of increased traffic flow through the area.
“It has made it a lot harder to enter downtown and find parking for the building,” said Pereira. “What used to take me five minutes to park now takes closer to 15.”
The roadblock is a necessary evil with the opening of such a highly regarded and anticipated spot, with additional officers and MGM staff directing the vehicles as closely and quickly as possible. But even still, the addition of 10 to 20 minutes to a commute may take some adjustments for those familiar with the area.
Taking all into consideration – weighing the frustration of traffic stoppage with the elation of stepping through that grand entrance to be greeted by a smiling face – the MGM Casino and Resort has already established a presence among the Springfield community.
All photos courtesy of MGM Springfield