August 15, 2018

MGM preps for Springfield opening, highway advertising

Photo | Courtesy
MGM Springfield has been readying for an Aug. 24 opening, when it will become the state's first full-service casino.

MGM Springfield, the state's first resort casino, has been humming with activity in recent days as employees complete dry runs of gaming and entertainment operations ahead of the planned grand opening on Aug. 24.

Michael Mathis, president and chief operating officer of MGM Springfield, said his team is on the one-yard line and has been running through "test scenarios" this week to prepare for its public launch on Aug. 24. MGM Springfield will be the first resort casino to open under the state's 2011 expanded gaming law.

"At this point, we're ready to open, we're just trying to fine-tune it and get folks in their full roles," Mathis told reporters Tuesday. "I can't wait for the public to see the property and our employees on August 24th."

Gaming Commission Executive Director Edward Bedrosian said the state will have regulators at MGM Springfield on Tuesday afternoon to observe a test run of gaming operations and will conduct formal evaluations of MGM's gaming floor operations before the opening.

"More importantly, the sixteenth and twentieth are two formal evaluation times when we will have people -- there will be invited guests -- and we will have people there and we will do formal evaluations of how things are going on the floor and have meetings with MGM afterwards to have discussions if there are any issues that need to be corrected," he said.

Assuming there are no issues with MGM's floor operations -- "And we do assume that," Bedrosian said -- the Gaming Commission is expected to issue MGM Springfield a temporary certificate of operations sometime between the Aug. 20 and Aug. 23.

Bedrosian acknowledged that opening a new casino rarely happens "without some issues and one of the issues that has sort of popped up is some of the signage."

About an hour of Tuesday's Gaming Commission meeting was devoted to a discussion of the large digital sign on MGM Springfield's parking garage that is visible to drivers on Interstate 91 and whether MGM will be allowed to display moving images on it.

The city of Springfield already agreed to let MGM display moving images on the sign but reserved the right to impose conditions on use of the sign after it has been operational for a while. The Gaming Commission, though, has the authority to weigh in since it is responsible for issuing the casino's license to operate, General Counsel Catherine Blue said.

Though there are state and federal standards for off-site advertising -- think billboards that advertise for businesses located elsewhere -- Gaming Commission ombudsman John Ziemba said the MGM sign, which is attached to an MGM parking garage, qualifies as on-site advertising.

"There is no state regulation regarding on-site advertising that is applicable here," he said.

That did not go over well with Commissioner Gayle Cameron, a retired New Jersey State Police lieutenant colonel, who said she is concerned that having moving images on the sign will distract drivers on I-91.

"I do have a real concern that there are no standards here, you can do as much video as you want and you really can't assure us there is anything built in to keep it safe," she said to MGM executives. She added, "I typically don't like to step on the toes of the city, but I do have real concerns here about this from a public safety standpoint."

Ziemba said federal guidelines recommend that off-site advertising images change at most once every eight seconds and that state regulations require the images to remain static for at least 10 seconds.

Describing MGM's vision for its sign, Mathis described it as "a combination of dynamic video animation as well as stills. It would be a combination of statics that I think follow the eight-second rule mixed in with an occasional video dynamic."

Mathis played a video for the commission showing how the video sign would look with moving images and animations mixed in with still-image advertisements, as well as a video that shows what a driver on I-91 North would see as they approach and pass the casino.

The MGM Springfield president told the commission that MGM uses moving images on signs in Las Vegas and at its other properties without issues. He said MGM has similar signs on the Las Vegas strip and along the stretch of I-15 that runs behind the Vegas strip.

Cameron noted that while such signs may be common in Las Vegas, drivers in Massachusetts are not accustomed to them.

Mathis pointed to the large digital display on the side of the WGBH building overlooking the Massachusetts Turnpike in Brighton as an example of a similar sign. But Ziemba and commissioners pointed to the fact that the WGBH sign did not begin using moving images until drivers were used to the sign and that, unlike MGM Springfield's sign, drivers do not need to turn their heads to the side to see the WGBH screen.

Commissioners were split over whether having moving images on the sign would be distracting -- Crosby said he didn't think it would be any more distracting than the digital billboards along the Southeast Expressway while commissioner Eileen O'Brien said she would be inclined to prohibit all dynamic images from the sign.

Ultimately, the commission voted unanimously to deny MGM's request to have moving images on the sign with the caveat that the issue will be revisited about 90 days after the casino opens. In the meantime, Bedrosian instructed MGM to follow standards for outdoor highway advertising, including the eight seconds between movements.

"It's certainly disappointing," Mathis said after the commission's vote. "We know the standard in the industry and have never had an issue with this in any of our other jurisdictions."

Mathis said he respects the commission's attention to public safety and how the board reached its decision. He said drivers will see "great, creative content" on the sign regardless, but is hopeful the commission will reconsider.

"But they will be static images. They'll slide every 8 seconds, which is the standard the commission has asked us to adhere to," he said. "Don't get me wrong, it will still be great content. It just won't be as interesting and compelling as we do in other jurisdictions and that is disappointing."

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