Boston Mayor’s Proposed Casino License Delay Overruled by State Gaming Regulators
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh’s bid to postpone a decision to issue a local casino license met with a rejection last week. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission said that Walsh had no right to delay the issue. Instead, a decision on a license for one of two Boston area license applicants should be announced soon.
Martin Walsh wanted to delay the decision after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that Boston-area voters would have a chance to repeal the license process with a vote. The Supreme Judicial Court called for a ballot referendum in November 2014 to issue a single casino license.
2011 Casino Law Could Be Repealed
Legislation passed by Massachusetts lawmakers in 2011 provided for one casino license in the Boston metropolitan area. Since then, gaming companies have jockeyed to receive the license. These days, Mohegan Sun and Wynn Resorts are the last remaining contenders–though Caesars Entertainment is appealing a lawsuit dismissal to force themelves back into the picture.
Despite Caesars’ action, it appears with Steve Wynn or Mohegan Sun will win the right to build a casino near Boston. Already, MGM Resorts has been awarded a license for a casino in western Massachusetts (MGM Springfield), while Penn National Gaming received a license for the Plainridge facility in the southern part of the state.
Wednesday Meeting in Charleston
In Charleston this last Wednesday, Martin Walsh claimed that vetting the rival proposals at present would be a waste of taxpayer money. He said the taxpayers might end the license process in November, rendering the vetting process useless. Representatives of Wynn Resorts and Mohegan Sun were present at the meeting.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission said the voters had a right to know where the casino would be built before going to the ballot box. In that case, the MGC said that going ahead with the licensing process “is the prudent way to proceed”.
Why Approval Should Happen before the Vote
A tactical reason exists why Boston’s mayor might be right, though. The referendum is asking for citywide support. If the location of the casino site is know (whether it’s Revere or Everett), then voters outside of those communities might decide they have no interest in seeing the casino built. In that case, the referendum could see a major backlash.
Gaming Companies Should Work Together
Michael Mathis, president of the upcoming MGM Springfield, was discussing that issue when he said there is “a real sense that we all need to work together to educate the Commonwealth”. Whether such tactical reasons trump the need for fairness and openness are another matter, which is why the Gaming Commission argued the way it did. One decision undercut that argument, though.
The day the license decision was moved back by the commission. The original date was September 30, well before the time of the vote. The new date for the license to be announced is December 1.
Benefits for Boston
Whatever the case, gaming developers and officials alike agree that voters in the area need to be educated on the economic benefits of a casino complex in the Boston suburbs. The jobs created should revitalize one section of the city. While gamblers will lose money at the casino, such destinations are prime stops for tourists visiting Boston, too.
The casino licensing process has involved a series of controversies. Caesars Entertainment filed a lawsuit claiming the chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Board had a conflict of interest, due to a 20-year old business partnership with someone standing to gain if Wynn Resorts won the bid. The WGB chairman did not announce his connection until a year after learning about it, and eventually recused himself from the licensing process altogether.
Later, one of the owners of the tract of land the Everett Casino would be built upon was found to have been a former convict. This required the mayor of Everett to offer to buy the land for the Wynn Resorts bid from its owners, then sell the land at-cost to Steve Wynn’s gaming and leisure company. So many scandals might cause the people of Massachusetts to reject the entire process, which would set the gaming commission back by years. In previous votes, the people of outlying districts (such as Revere) have shown approval for such plans, while the people inside Boston have been less enthusiastic.