Metro, Politics

City Of Boston, Developers Clash Over Site Of Proposed Casino

As Wynn Resorts breaks ground for a new casino in Everett, Mass., Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, WCAS ’09, is grappling with the decision of whether to appeal his and the city’s case against the development. After first making its lengthy case in May 2014, the City of Boston has sought legal aid in the process of garnering revenue from the casino, especially after the Massachusetts Gaming Commission awarded Wynn Resorts a gambling license over Mohegan Sun, a company that would have established its casino at Suffolk Downs and brought in a minimum of $18 million per year for the city.

The city’s case has repeatedly lost in court, as the state of Massachusetts has officially deemed the road where the building will sit “properly zoned” for a casino. Moreover, legislation that Mayor Walsh, when he was a State representative, voted in favor of in 2011 states that “the host community [is defined] in geographical terms, not in impact terms,” discounting Walsh’s argument that the increase in traffic in nearby Charlestown justifies naming Boston the casino’s host.

In addition to said legislation, Wynn has promised, and is required by law, to refurbish Charlestown’s Sullivan Square in preparation for this increase, a project estimated to cost the company $10.9 million. Yet, even with previous legal failures and Wynn Resorts’ reparations pledge, Walsh is set on finding a way to make Boston the casino’s host community.

If the city were to be awarded host status of the resort, then the $1.25 million of tax money spent in the past two fiscal years on this lawsuit by Mayor Walsh would be justified. Currently, the lawyers working with the mayor’s appeal have stated that further legal proceedings would be executed pro bono, should he choose to pursue it. As the situation currently stands, however, Walsh may be fighting a losing battle.

According to Boston College professor Rev. Richard McGowan, S.J., only one of the two potential casino locations within city limits voted in favor of the development—East Boston voted against, while Revere, the home of Suffolk Downs, only led in voting percentages by roughly 33 percent. Meanwhile, local voters in Everett are voting 80 percent in favor of the casino being built.

One aspect of the legislative battle lies within those statistics—economically, Everett is in far more need of the revenue from the casino than Boston. The increased traffic flow and casino revenue would revive the impoverished town’s economy, creating a larger consumer base and more jobs.

The casino would also make use of a previously unapproachable ex-chemical site, with Wynn planning on spending $1.6 billion to overturn the damaged grounds. If the local votes do not thoroughly show the social effects of the casino’s development, those two realities do—Everett is seeking revitalization through Wynn, while Walsh and the city are fighting for revenue, regardless of the source.

“Suffolk Downs makes more sense,” McGowan said. “But, that’s just not the way it worked out—that just goes to show you’ve got to keep playing the game until the last out.”

This “last out,” or at least some form of resolution to the problem, seems to be in the works, as on Dec. 8, Mayor Walsh and Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn held a closed-door meeting. In a response to The Boston Globe, Walsh stated that he and Wynn were “working on some common agreements and common goals” for the future of the casino, although Walsh has made no promises to stop fighting the development.

“I’m fighting on behalf of the people of Boston,” Walsh said in a comment outside City Hall last week. “I’m not going to roll over and not fight for the people of Boston.”

Now, years after the initial casino proposal, the only avenue available for Mayor Walsh to engage in the lawsuit Mohegan Sun plans to pursue in appealing the Gaming Commission’s rejection of its application, which, if successful, may result in an establishment with Boston listed as its host community.

Bostonians are left anxiously wondering what Walsh’s definition of the “last out” is, and whether this tax-funded battle will be worth it in the end.

“Every city is just trying to protect their revenue,” McGowan said. “That’s what this all comes down to.”

Featured Image by Steven Senne / AP Photo

December 10, 2015
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