The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) voted unanimously – 4-0 – to move ahead with the issuing of gaming licenses despite a November ballot question that could wipe out casino gaming altogether.
Commissioner Jim McHugh led the charge saying it only makes sense to stay the course.
“Proceeding now makes good sense and is good public policy,” he said.
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and several Boston elected officials had called on the MGC last week to delay the awarding of a casino license in the Greater Boston region until after the November ballot question is settled.
The point was argued for Boston on Wednesday – in a meeting at the Bunker Hill Community College’s Charlestown Campus – by former Charlestown and Chelsea State Rep. Gene O’Flaherty.
O’Flaherty is now the corporation counsel for Boston and was charged with arguing the point for Mayor Walsh in calling for the delay.
Also giving testimony was Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria and attorneys from casino applicants Wynn Resorts and Mohegan Sun.
Following the unanimous vote, the MGC also voted unanimously to have Boston begin its Surrounding Community Agreement (SCA) arbitration process on July 3.
Every other SCA in the arbitration process, including Somerville and Chelsea, has been decided.
The fifth commissioner, Steve Crosby, was not part of the discussion as he recused himself from the Greater Boston region casino process earlier this year. On the heels of Charlestown’s elected officials calling on the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to hold off granting gaming licenses until after the statewide ballot question is held in November, Mayor Martin Walsh joined the growing chorus last Thursday afternoon.
“I will file a stay with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, requesting that they hold off on granting a gaming license for Region A until after the November election,” said Walsh. “We are facing an unprecedented situation in Massachusetts right now, particularly given the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision earlier this week.”
Walsh said from day one he has consistently advocated to have the voices of the people heard and that Boston residents deserve the right to vote on this matter, and the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) has granted them that right.
“If the MGC chooses to go forward with granting a license, and the voters choose to repeal the gaming law in November, all of the parties involved risk losing significant time and millions of dollars for nothing,” said Walsh. “This has been a difficult process for everyone involved. I appreciate the work of the MGC. Whether I agreed with their decisions or not, I recognize the challenges they have faced and I appreciate their efforts.”
Last Tuesday, after the SJC ruled in favor of allowing a statewide ballot question to repeal the state’s gaming law, City Councilor Sal LaMattina sent a letter to the MGC Wednesday urging them to delay granting licenses.
“The Supreme Judicial Court’s decision to allow the repeal expanded gaming question on the ballot this November could potentially have a huge impact on my entire district, which includes Charlestown, East Boston and the North End,” said LaMattina. “We’ve repeatedly asked for the chance to have referendums on both proposals and were refused those opportunities. This statewide referendum that was just approved will give all of us the chance to vote one last time and we’d like it to be as fair and transparent as possible. Therefore, I ask that the Gaming Commission please refrain from holding any other meetings or hearings until after the election.”
LaMattina said his constituents will now have to deal with another long casino campaign season and it’s not fair to have to deal with the decision making process as well, especially if it ends up being futile if the repeal question passes.
“It may or may not mean anything to you, but this is an issue that has haunted me for 6 years,” he said. “As much as I would like it to subside, it hasn’t. Ultimately, if expanded gaming is to come to Massachusetts, we all feel that it should hinge on the decision of the voters of the Commonwealth. Let the vote play out and then proceed with the awarding of licenses-that is, if the repeal referendum fails.”
John Ribeiro, chairman of Repeal the Casino Deal said, “Now that it’s clear the people will have a chance to vote yes to repeal casinos, smart leaders like Mayor Walsh see the wisdom in slowing the Gaming Commission’s rush to the slots table. The economy is growing, cranes are up in every skyline in Massachusetts, and jobs are coming back. The people of Massachusetts know we can do better and the people should be heard before any decisions are made.” Meanwhile, Wynn announced that it has filed its Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) with the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. The filing follows Wynn’s filing of a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) and nearly completes a 15-month study required by the Commonwealth to analyze and detail the environmental and transportation impact and remediation associated with a proposed $1.6 billion 5-star Wynn Resort in neighboring Everett.