Boston: Wynn Knew Of Mob Ties

In a court fight that’s turned downright nasty, new materials released by the city of Boston in its bid to block Wynn Resorts from opening a casino in the suburb of Everett allege the company knew a mob associate would profit from a land deal to secure the site. Steve Wynn vehemently denies that allegation and has threated to sue Boston Mayor Martin Walsh (l.).

Newly revealed interviews with at least five people suggest Wynn Resorts knew a mob associate with felony convictions would profit from his stake in the land where the gaming giant plans to build a .7 billion resort casino, the city of Boston says in recent court filings.

Boston, which is suing the Massachusetts Gaming Commission over its decision to award Wynn one of three casino licenses authorized by a 2011 state law, says the witnesses told commission investigators that Wynn representatives were informed of or discussed Charles Lightbody’s ownership stake before signing an option on the long-vacant 33 acres on the Everett waterfront across from Boston.

The city argues that existence of the testimony casts further doubts over the commission’s vetting of the Wynn application.

Wynn Resorts Chairman Steve Wynn vigorously denied the allegation, insisting Boston Mayor Martin Walsh apologize for “false statements and untrue innuendo” in documents presented in the lawsuit.

“Apparently, you have conducted yourselves with reckless disregard for the truth because you somehow feel your actions are immune from accountability,” Wynn’s libel attorney wrote in a letter to the mayor. “Such is not the case.”

A spokesman for the mayor brushed off the letter.

“We stand firmly behind the allegations in the amended complaint,” he said.

Boston and the nearby cities of Revere and Somerville accuse the commission and Wynn in separate lawsuits of misconduct that severely compromised the competition for the state’s most lucrative casino license, the crown jewel of the state’s strategy for recapturing some of the hundreds of millions of dollars left in Connecticut casinos every year by Massachusetts residents. It is expected to provide 4,000 permanent jobs, 4,000 union construction jobs and more than $200 million a year in revenue for the state.

The 2011 law permits the licensing of three resort-scale casinos, each taxed at a rate of 25 percent, as well as a smaller slots parlor, which opened June 24 at Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville. Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts International received the second license, for an $800 million facility in Springfield. The commission is still considering applications for the third resort, either in Brockton or New Bedford, and could make the award as early as January 2016.

Boston alleges the commission attempted to “salvage” Las Vegas-based Wynn’s qualifications in the midst of an intense competition for the Everett license with a partnership between the owners of Suffolk Downs racetrack and the operating arm of Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Indian Tribe. The city claims this was accomplished by “mischaracterizing” evidence the commission’s investigators uncovered regarding Wynn’s knowledge of Lightbody’s role.

The allegedly incriminating interviews regarding Lightbody were included in roughly 1,000 pages of materials the city filed in arguing for more leeway to gather evidence in its suit. But a state judge struck the filings from the court record because they had been submitted just hours before a hearing in the case. The city subsequently released the materials to The Associated Press.

Wynn spokesman Michael Weaver maintains the company first learned about Lightbody’s ties to the property from the Gaming Commission investigation.

Traffic Snarl

State Attorney General Maura Healey, meanwhile, has issued a letter to state transportation officials in which she urged them to delay any approvals for Wynn’s project until an independent analysis on the casino’s impacts to the notoriously traffic-clogged region could be done.

Healey said the traffic study now under consideration by Massachusetts Department of Transportation regulators was conducted by consultants working for Wynn Resorts, and in her letter to Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, expressed “significant concerns” about relying on the study’s objectivity.

As a candidate for attorney general last year, Healey, who lives in Charlestown, opposed casinos and supported a referendum question to repeal the 2011 law. (Voters statewide backed the law by an overwhelming margin.) As attorney general she has vowed to apply strict oversight to casino development. However, she has no legal authority to mandate the additional traffic study or to insist on a delay in the review process.

Pollack, in a prepared statement, did not say what her agency will do, if anything, and instead noted that the state will “welcome commentary from all potentially affected parties, especially from community members to ensure issues like traffic mitigation are appropriately addressed”.

Wynn responded to Healey’s letter with a prepared statement expressing frustration.

“For 19 months we have diligently followed the detailed and robust” environmental permitting process, the statement said. “After extensive studies and analysis reviewed by numerous state agencies—as well as draft, final, supplementary and secondary supplementary reports—we believe we are prepared to move forward.”

The company has proposed $10.9 million worth of upgrades to a critical crossroads at the site, including new traffic signals, widened roads, reconstructed sidewalks, a reconfigured entrance and a new bus-only lane.

Trouble in Martha’s Vineyard

Three hours to the south on Martha’s Vineyard tensions are rising between residents of the affluent resort island and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head over the tribe’s insistence on proceeding with construction of a Class II casino in a community center on tribal land.

The project is meeting heavy resistance as well from the tribe’s local members, who have gathered enough signatures to force a special vote on it slated for August 16.

“This is our homeland. We do not want a casino near where our tribal children live,” said former Wampanoag Chairwoman Beverly Wright. “I’m all for gambling. But not on the island. It does not make sense here. We don’t have the infrastructure.”

The casino proposal narrowly survived a similar vote last February that uncovered a deep rift between mainland members, led by current Chairman Tobias Vanderhoop, who constitute a tribal majority and back the casino, and island members, who mostly oppose it.

The town of Aquinnah, in the meantime, has filed a request for a temporary restraining order that would compel the tribe to halt construction. The petition is expected to be heard by a federal judge in Boston on August 12.

The state and the town argue that a 1983 agreement between the tribe and the state that awarded the Wampanoag roughly 400 acres of land on Martha’s Vineyard explicitly bars the tribe from entering the gambling business.

The tribe says the U.S. Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which Congress passed five years after the land deal, supersedes state and local laws.

Preserving Springfield

At the MGM site in the west of the state developments have been more positive as company representatives and historic preservation officials near an agreement on buildings in Springfield targeted for demolition to make way for the resort.

Last week, the Gaming Commission approved a key component of the deal, which provides an initial $350,000 toward a new preservation trust fund that would support restoration of historic properties within a half-mile radius of the project.

MGM proposes demolishing all or part of seven historic buildings but preserving facades and architectural elements on others.

The commission said it will also conduct its own review now that MGM wants to delay opening the casino by about a year to September 2018 because of a major highway upgrade happening nearby.