Casino Referendum Looming in Revere

Voters in Revere, Massachusetts February 25 will decide for a second time whether they want a casino resort in their town, this one operated by the Mohegan Sun (l.). Even though the first one passed, there is no assurance that the new vote will be positive.

Residents of Revere, Massachusetts, a town of about 53,000, will vote February 25 on whether to support a host community agreement with the Mohegan Sun to build a casino resort on 42 acres on the Suffolk Downs racetrack property.

Massachusetts’s casino law gives communities a veto over whether a casino can be built.

Anti-casino forces largely led by local and regional religious groups from a variety of faiths are pulling out all the stops in an effort to keep the city’s voters from voting for a casino a second time. The first time, in November, voters supported by a handy margin the casino that was proposed for Revere and East Boston. However, East Boston voters rejected that proposal, forcing Suffolk Downs to repurpose its proposal and bring in a new partner, the Mohegans.

Today opponents such as “Don’t Gamble on Revere,” have posted signs around town showing Paul Revere warning, “The Problems are Coming.” At a recent town meeting conducted by local clergy, one opponent, quoted by the Revere Journal, said, “We want you all here tonight to hear the other side of the casino story, the side that hasn’t been told so much.”

Some ministers in town decry the fact that they didn’t organize last year to oppose the first vote. They feel they have been granted a second chance to defeat what they consider to be a social ill. Last week they organized a meeting attended by about 150 people.

“We have our chance again and that’s why we’ve stood up now,” said one of the organizers.

Several anti-casino activists attended a recent meeting sponsored by the group, including Celeste Myers and John Ribeiro, founders of No Eastie Casino, who successfully led the effort to defeat the casino in East Boston.

The Rev. Nick Granitsas of the First Congregational Church of Revere, declared, “The casino is promising great things to our economy. But instead, it’s going to bring destruction down on many of our small businesses.”

Although faith groups are largely opposed to the Revere casino, most city officials support it, according to Mayor Dan Rizzo, who commented last week, “All they are doing right now is driving jobs and revenue out of the city and into Everett. If they think they’re eliminating gaming, they’re not.”

A spokesman for the Mohegans, Cosmo Macero Jr., quoted by the Boston Globe, said that while he respects the position of the church leaders, “It’s very clear however that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is establishing a gaming industry. Mohegan Sun Massachusetts will create thousands of jobs, tens of millions of dollars in new revenue, and economic opportunity for Revere and the entire region.”

As it closes on wrapping up the election contest in Revere, the Mohegans are ramping up their PR campaign against their rival for the Boston Metro license, Steve Wynn’s proposed casino in Everett.

Last week the tribe targeted Wynn’s much publicized efforts to persuade the state to change the rules governing casinos in the Bay State to make it more attractive for him to operate. He has hinted that he might not operate a casino if he doesn’t get what he wants.

According to Mitchell Etess, chief executive officer for the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, interviewed by the Boston Globe, “Unlike Wynn, our commitment to building in Massachusetts is not contingent on anything.” He added, “We’re ready. We don’t need changes in the law.”

Explaining why he has suddenly taken off the gloves, Etess said, “At some point, we felt we needed to point these things out.” Previously the tribe had not mentioned the existence of the rival proposal, although Wynn has attacked the Mohegans’ proposal and accused the tribe of having a tax incentive that would prevent it from drawing business to Massachusetts at the expense of its Connecticut property. Etess told the Globe that its agreement with its financial backer, Brigade Capital Management, commits it to not showing favoritism in marketing its two casinos.

While claiming that his company’s casino could be operating much sooner than Wynn’s due to environmental clean up that it required at the Everett site, Etess added, “Because we participated in the gaming act’s creation and noted the careful deliberation with which the legislature used to craft it, Mohegan Sun does not think that the gaming act needs any major legislative changes to be successful.”

Etess’ remarks are largely aimed at the commission, which has the sole authority to issue a license.

Meanwhile the mayor of the city of Boston, Martin J. Walsh, has requested the gaming commission give it more time to study both the Revere and Everett proposals before designating the Bay State’s largest city as a “surrounding community.”

The mayor is sounding increasingly frustrated as he tries to pry information out of both the Mohegans and Wynn about their proposals, and so he isn’t yet ready for the commission to hit the timer that would give him 30 days to negotiate agreements with the two developers before the commission steps in to arbitrate.

Walsh is also still trying to press the idea that Boston should be designated a “host community” for one or both of the proposals, which would give the city a veto over either of them.

Western Gaming Zone

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission last week declined to approve Northhampton and Hampden’s applications to be designated as “surrounding” communities to the $800 million casino resort proposed for Springfield by MGM. The commission ruled that the two towns were more likely to benefit from than being adversely impacted by the casino, which would be located 20 miles from Northhampton.

The commission did not buy Northampton’s argument that if Springfield’s downtown area is revived that it would hurt that town’s commercial district, which is tied to tourism.

MGM countered that Northampton was proposing “a form of economic protectionism.”

The commission did designate Longmeadow as a surrounding community, due to that city’s likely increase in traffic due to the casino. This gives the city and MGM 30 days to reach a mitigation agreement or else the commission will provide arbitration. Longmeadow had previously requested that MGM pay it $1 million up front and $500,000 annually, a figure MGM rejected.

The commission also heard a request by the Big E state fair in West Springfield asking that MGM not be allowed to have shows at the Mass Mutual Center during the month prior to the Big E fair in September.

MGM Springfield President Michael Mathis commented, “We look forward to continuing to work cooperatively with officials from Longmeadow and the Big E to come up with agreements that will serve all parties, and allow us to avoid the arbitration process.”

MGM recently completed negotiations on a sponsorship and cross marketing agreement with the Majestic Theater in West Springfield. Under the terms of the agreement MGM will purchase all of the seats of the theater for one night for each of the theater’s annual productions for five years. The casino will also purchase advertising in the theater playbill for eight years.

Mathis commented,“We are pleased that MGM Springfield and the Majestic Theater were able to reach an agreement and can now work cooperatively to ensure a mutually beneficial future in the Pioneer Valley. We thank the Majestic Theater’s leadership team for its hard work and cooperative spirit leading up to today.”

Because of this agreement the theater withdrew an application to the commission to be designated as an “impacted live entertainment venue.”

Communities that are not granted “surrounding community” status might still apply for money that will be made available for specific impacts caused by casinos. This comes from a fund mandated by the gaming expansion legislation.

Other communities that MGM has successfully negotiated agreements with include Ludlow, Agawam, Wilbraham, East Longmeadow and Chicopee, with the cities receiving between $50,000 and $150,000 annually, with some up front payments.

After being turned down by the commission, Northhampton Mayor David J. Narkewicz announced that his town plans to redouble its efforts to shore up the town’s economy.

“Northampton is trying to protect its local economy and what we’ve created here with our businesses and restaurants and entertainment,” Narkewicz said after the ruling. “We’re going up against one of the largest entertainment companies on the planet.”

The city commissioned a study that projected that the city’s merchant would lose between $4.4 million and $8.8 million if the Springfield casino were built. Some commissioners criticized that report for only focusing one the negatives that such a casino would impose on the city without looking at any economic benefits.

Mathis last week predicted that Springfield would undergo something of an economic renaissance as a result of the casino. Mathis says he already feels part of the community.

In an interview with the Republican he said, “I quickly got personally involved with what we in the company call the ‘Springfield story,’ which is not only to develop a world-class resort, which we’re great at doing, but do it in an environment where we can help a community like this return to some of its prior greatness. This idea of a downtown, urban casino, which we’ve designed, I think is going to help change our industry.”

He added, “This project has a special place in a lot of our hearts because it’s just different. We’ve never done this before. And if we do it right it’ll open up other opportunities for our company to go into a downtown environment and help a community understand the positive impacts a project like ours can have.”

The casino development proposes to incorporate the history of the South End into the end product, preserving the historic Armory, which will become part of the courtyard and entertainment area while another historic building, this one on State Street, will be preserved in a 294-room hotel tower.

“I think one of the great elements of our design are the historic elements we’ve incorporated into the project. And we’ve kept in place 101 State St., the old MassMutual building, the old headquarters, for our administrative offices. We’ve gone out of our way to find three buildings we could compliment our design with,” added Mathis.

At the same time the Springfield Historical Commission is asking MGM to avoid tearing down the former Union House hotel building on Main Street, which was built in 1862. The commission is making an appeal to Mayor Domenic Sarno. The panel feels that the old building could be incorporated into the casino without tearing it down. MGM has heard the proposals but so far not responded to them.

Slots Parlor

A study by the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce has concluded that the slots parlor operated by the Cordish Companies proposed for Leominster would bring the most revenue to the state while cannibalizing the fewest existing businesses.  The Innovation Group prepared the study.

Leominster is one of three candidates for a slots only license with 1,250 slots. The others are Plainville and Raynham, which were also studied in the report.

The study concluded that the Leominster site would bring in $418 million in net gaming revenues more than Plainville and $731 million more than Raynham.

According to Chamber President David L. McKeehan, “Not only will the Leominster project maximize returns to local and state governments. But it will also maximize jobs and economic development through the Massachusetts Live! commitment to fund in excess of $1 million per year to high-tech start-up companies in the medical device industry located in the North Central region.”