After months of failed negotiations between the City of Boston and Wynn Everett to nail down a ‘surrounding community’ agreement, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) stripped the city of surrounding community status last Thursday at a public hearing.
The MGC said it determined that Boston had waived its surrounding community designation by “refusing to participate in the arbitration process”. In writing, the city told the MGC it would not participate.
Mayor Martin Walsh slammed the MGC saying the ruling by the commission is a statement about the value that they place on the people of Boston in this process.
“Due to an overall lack of information and uncertainty surrounding the Wynn proposal, the City of Boston was unable to properly assess Wynn’s impact on Charlestown and to determine an appropriate mitigation package,” said Walsh. “By law, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission was charged with this task, and instead of establishing an appropriate mitigation package for Boston as was expected, the Gaming Commission has decided to strip Boston of its rights as a surrounding community.”
Walsh added that, “Once again, they have placed the value of a casino proponent ahead of the people who are most greatly impacted by the presence of a casino in our backyards. This shows great disregard for the people of Boston, and is further evidence that the Gaming Commission appears to be making up the rules as they go along in this process. We remain hopeful that the Massachusetts Gaming Commission will recognize that Boston is clearly a party that will need mitigation, should they go forward with the Wynn proposal.”
City Councilor Sal LaMattina shared Walsh’s frustrations saying that he and residents in Charlestown have asked for months for more information on the Wynn proposal to no avail.
“Over 50% of the projected traffic to and from the casino will go through Boston, specifically Sullivan Square so I want to know how will the project mitigate the impacts of this traffic on the residents of Charlestown,” LaMattina said. “In my opinion the issues on how a Wynn casino would impact Charlestown and traffic here have not been addressed thoroughly.”
For months the city and Wynn were in a stalemate over an agreement that could potentially be worth millions for the City of Boston.
However, the city and neighborhood groups that have met with Wynn representatives have continuously asked for more information on traffic mitigation and other mitigation regarding the proposed casino in Everett.
Last month Mohegan Sun signed a surrounding community agreement with the city. The deal provides for an estimated $300 million in investments in Boston over a 15-year period. With this agreement, Mohegan Sun will invest $45 million in transportation improvements to the City of Boston and the area surrounding the casino site. The City of Boston will receive $30 million over 10 years for local capital projects in East Boston, and will receive a minimum of $18 million annually to mitigate the community impact of the casino development. This community impact annual payment will increase based on gross gaming revenue calculated in a given year.
Although the MGC stripped Boston of surrounding community status it does not mean the city will receive no mitigation.
In a statement the MGC said that it will, “Impose conditions on any license it awards Wynn, including conditions that require Wynn to mitigate impacts through payment of money or taking other actions or both. Further, Boston can still negotiate an agreement with Wynn to mitigate impacts. Also, Boston is not precluded from applying to the Community Mitigation Fund for assistance to pay for impact remediation.”
Casino Repeal campaign chairman John Ribeiro responded to the MGC’s ruling on Boston’s surrounding community status last week.
“I agree with Mayor Walsh. The Mass. Gaming Commission demonstrated their disregard for the residents of the City of Boston. Should we expect anything else?” said Ribeiro. “The Mass. Gaming Commission and the industry continue to stand in opposition to the citizens they serve. Can anyone tell the difference between the two? They are out of control and answer to no one. If we can’t trust the commission to look out for us, who can we trust? If this is how it starts in Massachusetts—before a single casino has opened—how do we suppose it will end?”
The MGC pointed to the state’s Gaming Act as cover for last week’s ruling and after consulting with their attorney’s they said that while applicants can only proceed with their license applications if they have agreements with cities and towns that have been designated as surrounding communities those cities and towns cannot stall the process.
“In order to prevent a surrounding community from effectively vetoing an applicant’s proposal by simply refusing to enter a surrounding community agreement, however, the law also required the Commission to create “protocols and procedures” for use when an applicant and a surrounding community do not reach an agreement on their own,” the MGC said in a statement. “The protocol and procedure created by the Commission is contained in a regulation requiring arbitration or waiver of surrounding community status. The City was aware of the regulation and mentioned it in the letter informing the Commission that it refused to arbitrate. Accordingly and as the regulation provides, the Commission deemed the City’s refusal to arbitrate as an election to waive its status as a designated “surrounding community.”
The MGC added there is still time for an agreement to be reached between the city and Wynn.
“Such an agreement could be reached either before or after the Commission makes a decision on which applicant will receive the Region A gaming license, if Wynn is chosen to receive a license by the Commission. The City and Wynn also could potentially make a joint recommendation regarding conditions the Commission could place on the license,” they said.