WEEKLY FEATURE: Boston Bashes Wynn

Boston has upped the heat of its rhetoric against the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and its granting of a license to build a casino in Everett at the same time that the commission has petitioned to have Boston’s lawsuit against the license thrown out. Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria (l.) told Boston leader Marty Walsh to “man up” and said Walsh should just accept the loss and move on.

The battle in the courts continues between the city of Boston and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission over its decision last year to award the license for the Boston metro casino resort not to Boston’s approved Suffolk Downs, but to the Wynn Everett. But the war of words is heating up even more.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh last week during a radio interview hinted that the city might seek an injunction to prevent Wynn from beginning construction.

Two weeks ago the commission filed a motion to dismiss Boston’s lawsuit, calling it “verbose, repetitive, argumentative and confusing.” The cities of Revere and Somerville are also suing to stop the casino.

The lawsuit accuses that the commission violated the 2011 law that authorized three casino resorts and a slots parlor in awarding the license to Wynn’s proposed $1.7 billion project. Another accusation is that Wynn has not yet applied for permits for the main entry to the resort, the only part of the project that goes through the city.

The lawsuit demands that a new gaming commission be appointed to look at the license again—and presumably rule in Boston’s favor this time.

As part of the battle a delegation from the city that had been scheduled to meet with Wynn Resorts officials over traffic issues concerned with Sullivan Square in Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood decided to boycott the meeting because of the lawsuit. The meeting was scheduled by the State Department of Transportation and the city of Everett at its headquarters and included representatives of the governor, the gaming commission in order to reach an agreement on a traffic plan. The casino company has had no meetings with Boston officials for several months. The city claims that Charlestown will be affected more than any other community by traffic and crime once the casino resort opens.

According to a spokesman for the city: “Due to the ongoing litigation, any conversation relating to the lawsuit would be had through counsel.” During his radio interview Walsh implied that it was Wynn’s responsibility to take the initiative to meet with the city and reset negotiations.

“The ball’s in their court,” he said. “I don’t think it would be right for us to reach out to them.”

This caused the mayor of Everett, Carlo DeMaria, to declare that it was time for Boston to concede defeat and start working with the winners of the license. In an interview with the Boston Herald DeMaria declared, “You gotta man up and take it on the chin,” adding “Hey, this is it. It’s in Everett. It’s not anywhere else. You’re not going to be getting any more money.”

Reacting to Walsh’s statement about restarting negotiations, DeMaria offered to facilitate a face-to-face.

“If the mayor wants to have a meeting today, I’ll have a representative from Wynn in my office at a moment’s notice,” DeMaria said. “I could convene that. I’d have whoever he’d like to have from the Wynn organization if they want to resolve the issues.”

The mayor of Revere, who is also an opponent of the Everett casino, criticized the Transportation Department for not including his city in the traffic meeting.

“I am concerned that it appears, based on Secretary Beaton’s comments,” Mayor Dan Rizzo declared, “that state agencies are trying to broker a deal between a municipality, the city of Boston, and a private developer, Wynn, when it is apparent the public interest has been so egregiously violated by this process.”

Another issue that seems likely to add time to the building process is the fact that Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton recently delayed issuing the environmental permit for the project due to what he characterized as an improper transfer of land from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to Wynn needed to begin construction. Wynn agreed to put the land into escrow until after an environmental review required by the state is completed.

The complications piling up have proved to fulfill a prediction made by the sole vote against giving Everett the license, James McHugh, who warned that opposition to Wynn could put roadblock after roadblock in the way of the casino.

Southeastern Gaming Zone

Rush Street Gaming, one of two casino developers in competition for the southeastern gaming zone’s license with its proposal for a casino resort on the Brockton Fairgrounds, is telling one audience in Philadelphia that the region has reached gaming saturation at the same time that other representatives telling people in Massachusetts that there is enough room for more casinos.

However, a company spokesman said that comments by an official in Philadelphia were meant to refer to the Mid-Atlantic region, and not the New England region.

Joe Baerlein, a spokesman for Rush Street, quoted by the Enterprise News, said,

“Massachusetts is so substantially different. You can’t dictate what other jurisdictions do. Massachusetts has created economic markets that can be sustainable.”

Rush Street is in competition with KG Urban’s proposal, in partnership with Foxwoods, for a casino resort in New Bedford. New Bedford voters will decide on the casino in a June 23 referendum.

Although the gaming commission is currently processing only those two commercial gaming license requests, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe and its proposal for a casino resort in Taunton is always Banquo’s ghost at the dining table.

Recently Chairman Crosby commented, “I think it’s pretty obvious to everybody that the uncertainty about the tribe’s status contributes to a lack of decisiveness on the part of the interested parties, on the part of the Gaming Commission and on the part of the legislature when they drafted the bill in the first place.” He added, “It’s a real conundrum.”

The tribe’s attorney Arlinda Locklear claims that the tribe’s application with the Bureau of Indian Affairs is being processed. She told the Bourne Courier, “We have good reason to believe significant portions of this document are under final review,” adding, “I am pretty confident it will be this year.”

This is not the first time an official of the tribe has predicted a positive decision from the BIA. Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell has in the past predicted that his tribe would put land into trust by 2013 and 2014.

Because of such delays the commission opened up bidding to commercial bidders, even though the 2011 law’s original intent was that one of the three casino resort licenses be set aside for the tribe—but only if it was able to meet several conditions, including putting land into trust.

Bureau of Indian Affairs head Kevin Washburn recently said, “There is an ongoing legal analysis,” but wouldn’t speculate on a timeline for a decision.

The tribe is currently landless, having only been recognized by the federal government in 2007. The city of Taunton in 2012 indicated approval for the casino in a referendum.

Meanwhile the commission dropped an idea that had generated a lot of heat when it was first floated several weeks ago: a rule prohibiting municipal officials in casino host communities from gambling at that casino.

Commissioner James McHugh said the communities in question are capable of adopting rules governing officials’ interaction with casinos.

Chairman Stephen Crosby added, “I’m uncomfortable sort of intimating that maybe we’re suspicious that municipal officials might be doing something.”

However, commissions haven’t given up completely on the idea and are still interested in prohibiting elected officials from being given perks such as comps or free meals at a casino.

Commissioner Bruce Stebbins, the one commissioner who insists that the restriction is a good idea, said, “I’m in favor of keeping this in there as kind of just a preventative and protective measure for all of us involved.”

No other state has such a rule according to the commission’s deputy general counsel, Todd Grossman.

The rule had been criticized strongly by several town officials, including an unpaid commission member who insisted that the rule would violate his constitutional rights.

The commission does have statutory power to include individuals from entering or playing at casinos deriving from the 2011 law and from the law that created the state lottery in 1972. Convicted felons can be placed on such a list or persons with a criminal background described as a “notorious or unsavory reputation, which would adversely affect public confidence and trust that the gaming industry is free from criminal or corruptive elements.”