Has Become the Face of MGM Springfield
A year or so ago, Mike Mathis
could walk the streets of downtown Springfield in relative anonymity.
That's because Mathis
is the face of the $800 million casino project proposed for Springfield's South End, and, increasingly, that face is being recognized, a development he
doesn't mind at all.
, whose business card now reads 'president, MGM Springfield
,' likes talking with people about what could be called his
project, although there is already a sizable team working on it.
And more than that, he
loves hearing from individuals about how this initiative could dramatically change things for the city and the region - and in positive ways.
'Transformative' was the word he
said one state official used to describe the MGM Springfield project, and he's
not at all shy about borrowing that term.
not shy about much of anything, a character trait he
says is one of many necessitated by, and also honed by, life as the son of an Army officer who moved his
family a number of times during his
"It was a wonderful childhood," Mathis
, listing stops in Atlanta, Monterey, Calif., Frankfurt, Germany, and Huntsville, Ala., among many others.
made frequent use of the word 'transformative' to describe the impact MGM's proposed casino will have on Springfield and the surrounding region.
By last fall - Nov. 4, to be exact, the day Palmer voters said 'no' to Mohegan Sun's plans to build a resort casino just off turnpike exit 8 - the MGM proposal was the proverbial last plan standing.
That phrase has been used quite extensively in the press, and Mathis
doesn't like it at all.
that it conveys the sense that MGM
will win this license - if that's what happens - seemingly by default.
will have triumphed because it had the best plan, one that prevailed over Penn National's bid to build a gaming complex in Springfield's North End in what became the first stage of the license competition, and one he
believes is a potentially groundbreaking concept for an urban gaming facility - what the company calls the 'inside-out casino.'
"I think this project is going to set the bar for any other opportunities that a gaming company has to develop in a downtown urban environment," he
said, making reference to this plan's focus on melding with its surroundings and putting the emphasis on family entertainment, not gaming.
"If all goes well, people will look back at what we did in Springfield as the standard."
For this issue and its focus on the casino era, BusinessWest
talked at length with Mathis
about everything from his
career in this industry to the state of MGM's proposal to the nagging presence of a referendum initiative that could undo everything that's transpired since the gaming legislation was passed in the fall of 2011.
And in keeping with his
wasn't shy about speaking his
In the Background
remembers that it was a dark February day, one when the mercury barely touched 20 degrees.
Those were the conditions when he
wife, Lisa, whom he
met while both were pursuing law degrees at Georgetown
, boarded a plane at New York's JFK airport to take up a fellow classmate's advice to explore job opportunities in Las Vegas.
"It was 75 and perfect when we landed," he
said with a broad smile, adding that the weather was just one of many factors that would entice the couple to pack up and move roughly 2,500 miles west.
The bigger factor was that Las Vegas was at what would later be identified as the early stages of a massive building boom, one that this entrepreneurial couple wanted to be a part of.
planned 'inside-out' casino
planned 'inside-out' casino could set the standard when it comes to urban gaming facilities.
Backing up a bit, Mathis
childhood spent moving from base to base, and the character traits it generated, definitely had an impact on his
eventual career track and made it much easier to pick up and move across the country.
"My upbringing in a military family helps define my in a lot of ways," he
"It's not surprising to me that I've been attracted to hospitality and international development, because I'm very comfortable traveling, and I like experiencing new environments."
He saw many environments in his youth, starting with the desert in Arizona, where he was born.
Over the next decade and a half, his
father's work would take the family to the Southeast - Atlanta and Huntsville - and then to the West Coast and Monterey, a somewhat lengthier stint that was perhaps his
"We were there for four years," he
probably couldn't have imagined just how much of the world he
would eventually see when he
was wrapping up his
law degree at Georgetown
did a clerkship with a firm in New Jersey and a summer internship with a large Wall Street firm, experiences that exposed him to trial work and sophisticated corporate practice, respectively.
eventually opted to return to New Jersey and spend more time in the courts.
Meanwhile, Lisa, who was in the same class with him at Georgetown
, took a job with a Wall Street firm.
Their schedules didn't allow them to spend much time together, he
said, and soon there was discussion about whether she
would seek opportunities in New Jersey or he
would do likewise in Manhattan.
Instead, they would both go to Las Vegas.
"We both got jobs with two of the top law firms in Las Vegas, who were happy to recruit some professionals from the East Coast because they were looking to broaden their practices," Mathis recalled, adding that, within that first year, they both represented clients in the gaming industry; he worked with Las Vegas Sands, and Lisa with Caesars.
Those stints eventually led to offers for in-house positions, which they both accepted.
Mathis spent the six years working with Las Vegas Sands, which he called a great learning experience, one in which he worked on not only the Venetian and Palazzo resort casinos, but also an expansion into Macau and the process of taking the company public.
"It was a really intense period with a lot going on, and I was right in the middle of all of it as a junior lawyer," he
"It was just an incredible experience."
He later accepted an offer to join Boyd Gaming and be general counsel for its flagship development on the Las Vegas strip - Echelon Place, at the site of the historic Stardust casino.
The $4 billion venture would have included four hotels, a 140,000-square-foot casino, and the 650,000-square-foot Las Vegas ExpoCenter
, but construction was halted in August 2008, roughly a year after it started, just as the effects of the Great Recession, which would devastate the Las Vegas economy, were starting to be felt.
While work at the site never resumed, Mathis
time at Boyd another key learning experience.
Mathis described the demise of Echelon Place as the low point in his career - "I had only experienced the boom" - but he stayed with the Boyd group until 2011, when he accepted a position with MGM as vice president of Global Gaming Development for MGM Hospitality.
In that capacity, he
has been one of the key players in advancing MGM's
latest developments - resort casinos in Macau, Delaware, and Springfield.
And late last year, that focus was narrowed when he
was made president of MGM Springfield
has joined a coalition, which also includes other gaming companies, host communities, and backers of casino gambling, that was created to fight the repeal effort, which Mathis
said could have a "chilling effect" on his
company's plans for a few months until the matter is decided.
"If we're fortunate enough to win the license in May, to have the potential repeal hanging over our heads as an industry makes it difficult to do certain things," he
said, listing as examples some of the early financial commitments related to construction and other capital-intensive expenditures.
"And that's unfortunate; there will be a two-month window where we're going to have to watch and see what the court does.
It's certainly not the way you want to kick off the project."
For the immediate future, the company will be an interested spectator as Penn National Gaming, the recently announced winner of the contest for the state's lone slots parlor license, decides how it will proceed with the repeal matter looming.
"The Commonwealth has invited our industry into this jurisdiction, and we've made a substantial investment in terms of time and money," Mathis
"We have other lines of business, and MGM
will survive if this is repealed,