Wynn’s Offer to Boston Pales Next to the Mohegans’

Steve Wynn’s offer to the city of Boston as a surrounding community for his proposed Everett casino is about a tenth as large as that the Mohegans offered for their Revere casino.

The compensation that Steve Wynn offered Boston as a surrounding community for the .6 billion casino resort he proposes for the neighboring city of Everett along the Mystic River is less than a tenth what the Mohegan tribe has offered the city for its Suffolk Down proposal in Revere.

Wynn offered $1 million up front and $2.6 million annually, $6 million in one-time upfront payments, along with giving local residents a preference in hiring. This compares to $18 million annually plus $30 million in one-time payments that the Mohegan Sun is offering, for a total of about $300 million over the next 15 years.

Wynn’s offer to the city was uncovered by local media through a public records request.

The tribe and Wynn are in competition for the Boston metro casino license, which is tentatively scheduled for being issued in September.

The Wynn organization points out that its offer is the largest surrounding community settlement proposed for its casino. For example, it agreed to pay Chelsea and Somerville $650,000 annually. According to spokesman Michael Weaver, “We followed the applicable regulation to create a package which mitigates the actual and true impacts of our project and is almost three times the value of our largest existing surrounding community agreement.”

The Wynn organization had prepared the offer as a first step in the arbitration process with Boston, and was apparently caught off guard when the mayor decided to pull out.

Because Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh has essentially tossed the arbitration process into the lap of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, his demands and Wynn’s offers will be weighed by that panel, which has the final say on what the city ultimately gets. “They’ve made all the decisions along the way for Boston up to this point,” he said recently. “I’m going to let them make the decision for Boston on what benefits Boston should get if they choose the Wynn proposal.”

In announcing his non-participation in the arbitration process, Martin indicated his bitterness with the commission, which rejected both his attempt to unilaterally declare Boston a “host community” and his call that it wait until after the November election before announcing who will get the license.

The commission has tasked its staff with researching the actual impacts on the city of the proposed casino resort. It is focusing on the effects of the casino on the Charlestown neighborhood, which is just across the river from the proposed casino. The commission is mulling holding a public hearing to listen to Charlestown residents.

The difference in the way that the Mohegan tribe and Wynn have treated Boston seems to show that the tribe thinks that the commission could take into account the more generous package being offered the city.

Mitchell Etess, chief executive officer of the Mohegan Gaming Authority said last week, “From the very beginning, we’ve approached our conversations with the City of Boston in the same way we approached them with other surrounding communities: with a true spirit of cooperation. Today, it is clear that Steve Wynn has not.”

In addition to the $1 million annual payment to Boston, Wynn has also committed to make $5 million in road improvements, which it says will do much to mitigate the casino’s effects on the city. Wynn would also make a one-time payment of $250,000 and an annual payment of $1 million specifically for transportation and a $750,000 annual payment for public safety. Wynn has also offered to pay $350,000 annually to support Charlestown cultural events and nonprofits and to try to spend as much as $15 million annually on local goods and services.

If Wynn is awarded the license, his company plans to use a quarter of a million live oysters to clean the river contaminated by years of exposure to chemicals from the Monsanto plant that once operated on the land. This will be the first time that oysters have been used to clean a private site, according to Wynn.

Wynn plans to spend about $30 million to clean up the river and the 33-acre casino site.

A single oyster can filter 30 gallons of water a day. According to a spokesman, the idea is to “convert a contaminated former chemical plant site into a public waterfront gem that everyone can enjoy. The Everett waterfront has been locked out of public use for more than a century. We’re going to open it up in grand fashion and create a spectacular esplanade that will be brimming with activity all year long. Our waterfront will be a crowning jewel of our resort.”

Springfield Casino

The Springfield city council unanimously voted last week to sell two properties the city owns to MGM Springfield for $3.2 million, to be used as part of the casino MGM plans to build in the South End. The properties are the former State Armory building and the former Zanetti school, which were both damaged extensively in the freak tornado that ravaged that part of the city on June of 2011.

The sale will be finalized by July 31, and will happen independently of whether the casino is built. Besides returning the property to the tax rolls, MGM has agreed to pay an amount equal to what the city would have collected in taxes if the land had not been public property the last year.

In a statement a spokesman for MGM said, “The Old Armory and the Zanetti School are key acquisitions for MGM Springfield, and represent our eagerness to fulfill our host community commitments. While some may want to stop progress, it is important for the City and MGM Springfield to respect the voters of Springfield, and begin to move forward together to bring jobs and opportunity to residents as soon as possible.”
City officials praised MGM for carrying out its commitment to buy the land, in spite of the fact that the casino has been put in doubt by the November election that will decide whether the 2011 gaming expansion law is repealed or not.

City council member Timothy Rooke declared, “It is indicative of the partnership that MGM has forged with the taxpayers, the businesses and the elected officials to try to help Springfield resurface. They have put their money where their mouth is, and they have fulfilled the promises they said they would keep.”

Union officials also praised MGM for “moving forward,” with creating jobs and economic development, despite the uncertainty of the initiative. The city’s voters endorsed the MGM proposal last year in the host community election.

Slots Parlor

Although the sword of Damocles of the November repeal election hangs over the Plainridge Park Casino slots parlor that it is building in Plainville, Penn National Gaming is going full speed ahead with construction. It has already paid $25 million for the license and has already spent millions on construction costs. If the law is repealed most observers expect to see Penn seek compensation of some sort, which would most likely come from the taxpayers.

Whatever the voters in the rest of the state do, Plainville voters have already indicated that they support the slots parlor. Last September they voted by a margin of 76 percent for the casino.

Repeal the Law

Some initiative supporters have implied that casino developers will renege on their promises to the communities where they hope to build.

Additionally, critics of the Massachusetts law argue that gaming is no longer a growth industry, especially in New England and that building casinos in the Bay State will steal revenue from a trusted source, the lottery.

They say that the predictions of gaming revenue for the state have been ov
erblown, or as Joan Vennochi wrote in the Boston Globe last week, “Just as Massachusetts starts to bank on the money, the glitter is wearing off the industry. No matter how glitzy the drawings for the next gambling mecca, the business itself looks old, tired, and battered by competition — not just from new online gambling options but from other old-school casinos.”

A group called Stand for Democracy has been assembled with Harvard University students, professors and alumni to unite with religious leaders to support passage of the repeal.

The group held a press conference at which one leader, theologian and divinity school professor Harvey Cox called casino gambling “Robin Hood in reverse.” Cox, who marched alongside martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, added, “I am here, in part because this is an expression of my religious commitment. I have been formed in my attitudes by a couple people, one of them is Martin Luther King, more recently Pope Francis, both of whom have emphasized that we should be on the side of the poor.”

Father Francisco Anzoategui, director of the Hispanic Apostolate for the Archdiocese of Boston, otherwise known as “Father Paco,” added, “This is not what we want for our communities, this is not what we envision for our state, this is not what we have been working for, for so many years, to improve the lives of the people we serve, and so I am joining all those across religions, religious beliefs, and faith communities. I will be here in September.”

Repeal the Casino Deal, the organization that put the initiative on the ballot, has targeted Springfield for its first formal meeting of the campaign. The group considers it important to fight the campaign aggressively in the city where MGM plans to build its $800 million casino resort.

Spokesman David Guarino commented, “Springfield is in many respects ground zero. They have a clear sense of what would happen if the law stays on the books.” The group’s headquarters will be in East Boston, however, where voters rejected the first Suffolk Downs racetrack proposal in November.

On the other side, the Committee to Preserve Jobs Associated with Casino Gaming Law” filed its official papers with the state recently, clearing the decks for possibly spending millions of dollars in the next few months to defend the law.

The wording of the ballot measure is considered sufficiently confusing that some voters may not be able to figure out which box to mark. This is in part due to the fact that a “yes” vote means no casinos. In addition, the initiative does more than just repeal the existing law, it also enlarges the definition of “illegal gaming” to include wagering on simulcast greyhound races, which continue to be offered in the state, as well as table and slot games.

In June the Supreme Judicial Court overruled Attorney General Martha Coakley and declared that the initiative was constitutional, opening the way for it to be on the November ballot.

The initiative is also a hot topic among those running for top elective office in the state. All three Democratic hopefuls for state treasurer agree that they oppose casinos in the Bay State. At a recent debate State Rep. Tom Conroy, Deborah Goldberg and State Senator Barry Finegold agreed that they support the initiative.

Goldberg declared that the lottery should not be made the victim to casinos. “Having been a locally elected official, I know that that billion dollars to every city and town within Massachusetts are the only unrestricted general funds that they receive,” he said.

Finegold agreed about the lottery and added, “The gaming bill is a bad bet for the Commonwealth.”

Conroy said he had done a cost-benefit analysis of how casinos affect communities. “What that cost analysis proved is that the costs outweigh the benefits,” he said.

The GOP candidate in the race, Mike Heffernan, opposes the initiative.