If you live in the Springfield, Massachusetts area, or if you recently visited the city, you probably noticed a feature on its skyline that has been missing for decades—large construction cranes hard at work on a major building project. That project is MGM Springfield, a $950 million entertainment complex and casino set to open in the city’s south end in 2018.
Like many large-scale construction efforts (particularly ones involving casinos), MGM Springfield’s plans have met with some opposition, but many local residents may not fully understand the extent of planning, consideration, and research that has gone into the project, or into Massachusetts’ gaming measures in general.
One person who does understand the complexities of these matters is American International College criminal justice professor Jill McCarthy Payne, MEd, JD. Her involvement with the Springfield project dates back to its earliest stages, and as plans have progressed over the past several years, she’s continued to bring the same tireless energy and impeccable diligence to the issues surrounding gaming that her students have seen in the classroom for years.
“I’m a lifelong Springfield resident,” McCarthy Payne begins. “I have been involved in politics on and off over the years, and I know Mayor [Domenic] Sarno. When the city was in the planning stages of going after a casino license, Mayor Sarno formed a review committee that I served on with four other local residents. We worked for months meeting with consultants and reviewing proposals, really going over the details of how this would all impact the city. And I was impressed—both with Springfield’s approach and with the proposals presented.”
In April 2013, Springfield selected the proposal from MGM Resorts International, but as local residents are aware, the process was far from over. “We all agreed that MGM was the best, so they were awarded the license, but then there was the referendum question, which is part of the process. So they came back to me and said that they needed a city resident to be treasurer of the referendum. I really believe that this project is best for the economic health of the city, so I accepted. Anything that MGM spent in order to win the referendum, I reviewed and signed off on. MGM was very thorough and I came away even more impressed with this entertainment company.”
Local officials were also impressed with McCarthy Payne. As gaming has become a more prominent economic and political issue—both locally and across the state—the need for committees overseeing the impact of such undertakings has grown. Early in 2015, officials asked McCarthy Payne to join the Local Community Mitigation Advisory Committee for the Springfield region, for which she has since been elected chair.
The committee’s purpose is to review any unforeseen negative financial impacts that the construction and finished complex are having on local communities, and to then make recommendations to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission for financial compensation. A recent example, explains McCarthy Payne, was when Caring Health Center, a primary care facility next to the MGM site, was awarded funds for a valet parking service to offset parking difficulties caused by the construction.
It’s important work, primarily due to that fact that projects of MGM Springfield’s scope are always evolving. “An issue may come up that wasn’t anticipated a year, two years, ten years from now,” says McCarthy Payne. “That’s why local mitigation is so important—local communities need to have a mechanism to help alleviate these issues.”
All of this work has led to McCarthy Payne’s latest position, a two-year appointment by Governor Charles Baker to the statewide Gaming Policy Advisory Committee, which she began in July 2016. This committee, which makes recommendations directly to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, will oversee local mitigation, the annual research agenda, and addiction services and public safety.
For McCarthy Payne, it’s a chance to further her understanding of the steps being taken to address some of the most vital issues surrounding the impacts of gaming. These steps include a multi-year study being conducted by the University of Massachusetts Amherst that will explore the social and economic impacts of casino gambling in the state, as well as GameSense, an educational and budgeting program that will be available in all Massachusetts casinos.
These initiatives have helped strengthen McCarthy Payne’s opinion that the decision to build the MGM complex in downtown Springfield was the best one for the area’s economy and growth.
“I know some people have a negative view of casinos, and I can understand their point,” she says. “Are there questions surrounding the impact that this will have on the area? Yes. Do some people go into debt over gaming? Yes. But that’s why we have committees to look at these issues. That’s why we have preventative services and education programs in place. One of the things that all AIC professors are encouraged to do is actively participate in their fields of discipline. We get out into the community and engage the issues that are important to our citizens. Springfield is my home, and I’m confident that I’ve done everything I can to help ensure that we’re making the best decisions we can for the city.”
-By Michael Reid
Featured Photo Credit: Michael Reid