Surrounded by highway traffic and the freshly cut grass in the rarely-travelled center of Sullivan Square and Alford Street, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and his administration held a major press conference last Thursday afternoon, May 21, to announce a significant amendment to their lawsuit against the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC), and ultimately, the Wynn project – calling for the MGC Commissioners to be dismissed, the Wynn license to be nullified and the casino process for Greater Boston to start all over again.
The lawsuit amendment added about another 70 pages to what is already a 75-page legal document. The crux of the amendment is focused on Boston being a host community and the Everett MBTA land that will serve as an access point – though is now in escrow until environmental review hurdles are cleared. New claims in the amended suit include forcing the disqualification of all Commissioners on the MGC going forward, a challenge to the Wynn purchase of the Everett MBTA land, the charge that Wynn has not filed for any licenses with Boston, and finally, the contention that Wynn was not suitable as an applicant as it was aware of problems with the ownership of the Everett site.
“Under this plan the City of Boston is and has always been a host community to the Wynn casino,” said Boston Mayor Walsh. “The only way in and the only way out is through the City of Boston on a Boston road through land that isn’t zoned for a casino…Let’s be clear, Wynn’s proposal is to build a $1.6 billion casino here only because of the amenities Boston offers. It’s counting on Boston’s amenities to support that development…As a mayor, I’m not going to let this proceed without a fight…We’re asking for the nullification of all decisions made by the MGC and the disqualification of all Commissioners from future decisions in Region A (Greater Boston)…It’s not blowing up the Gaming Commission. It’s asking for the Gaming Commission to be replaced and the people put there are respectful in the process…The City of Boston has been disrespected the whole way through.”
Among the many other allegations and calls for action thrown at the wall on Thursday was a call for Boston and/or Charlestown to be able to vote on the casino, and also that Wynn knew in advance of problems with the ownership of its casino site – a situation that resulted in a criminal investigation that has had nothing to do with Wynn and the administrative recusal from the process of MGC Chair Steve Crosby.
“Crosby had a long-term business relationship and friendship of 40 years with one of the owners of the land – an owner with a 50 percent interest in that land,” said Walsh. “The owner (Paul Lohnes) was the treasurer of Chairman Crosby’s business. He should have recused himself from the outset.”
Crosby did recuse himself from the process long before any licensing decision was made, though he did participate in the preliminary process up until around May 2014. That included a hearing in 2013 about whether or not Boston should be considered a host community, which was promptly refuted by Crosby and the rest of the Commission at a public meeting on the matter.
The amendment was an announcement that came quite by surprise for many, and Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria said the surprise for him came with the timing, but certainly not the content.
“I am disappointed with the City of Boston; they are putting politics over people and themselves above the state,” said Mayor DeMaria shortly after the Boston press conference on May 21. “They have had years to respond to the Gaming Commission and have chosen not to do so. Rehashing old, tired stories and manipulating facts does nothing to move that city forward and nothing to advance the Commonwealth. This is nothing but a rehashing of issues that have been brought up, solved or addressed by the state and the Gaming Commission. The City of Everett is tired of being the industrial backbone for the City of Boston. We will no longer shoulder the burden of another city’s prosperity at the expense of our future. It’s our time now.”
Wynn spokesman Michael Weaver echoed the sentiments of Mayor DeMaria. He said the lawsuit amendments are without merit.
“All of these endless allegations are retread stories and are without merit,” said Weaver. “We are happy to be moving forward with our construction and site remediation planning. We had more than 800 people attend our construction job fair two weeks ago, so clearly there are many people interested in the revenue and job creation our project will bring to Everett.”
Weaver also beat back any notion that Wynn had any knowledge of the impropriety that allegedly existed in the casino site prior to purchase.
“Wynn completed a compliance investigation of the property equity owners who were identified to the company,” he said. “Later, during the course of the MGC’s suitability investigation of Wynn MA, LLC, the MGC Investigation and Enforcement Bureau (IEB) raised concerns about potential participants who had not been disclosed to Wynn. In cooperation with the IEB, Wynn amended the option agreement to clearly confirm ownership and to reduce the option price to reflect fair market value without casino use.”
One major sticking point, however, for Boston was the fact that it believes Wynn has no access point to its casino site except via Horizon Way – a road that is jointly owned by Everett and Boston. Wynn, however, passed papers and has the deed to a piece of property formerly owned by the MBTA and entirely in Everett. A long process played out for Wynn to purchase that land last March, but state environmental officials called into question the MBTA’s process in selling the land – saying they should have put it through the environmental review process before the sale.
Wynn holds a deed to the property and has paid $6 million for it, but Boston consulting attorney, Tom Frongillo of Fish & Richardson, contends that the purchase isn’t legitimate and wasn’t made in time.
“It’s our contention that land deal came too late,” he said Thursday. “They had 60 days to acquire that land to comprise the gaming establishment. They did not acquire it within the 60 days of the license. The acquisition they made not only violated the MEPA statute, but also the state bidding laws. Our view is it’s too late…Issuing a license to a landlocked site is a problem. We should start the process over again.”
Weaver refuted the idea that they didn’t acquire the land in time, and said Boston is misinterpreting the law – saying that the Everett MBTA land has nothing to do with the legal definition of a “Gaming Establishment.”
He pointed out the state gaming law reads that the licensee has to only purchase the land where “the gaming establishment is proposed to be constructed.” He said they acquired the land where the casino will be built within the timeline.
“We were required to acquire the land by January 6 and, in fact, acquired it on January 2,” he said. “The MBTA parcels have nothing to do with the gaming establishment location.”
Wynn announced the purchase of the MBTA land on March 3.
Walsh said his administration has felt disrespected, and his corporate counsel – former State Rep. Gene O’Flaherty – said Wynn has refused to meet with them time and again.
That, also, is something that Wynn adamantly refutes and has refuted for many months since the Mayor’s Office first leveled that allegation last fall.
“There have been discussions, but not substantive discussions,” said O’Flaherty. “Wynn has had representatives in the community saying they have been meeting with the City of Boston. That is not the case…Wynn representatives say they have been meeting and working towards a solution with the City and that is actually not the case.”
Added Mayor Walsh, “I want to thank the people of Charlestown for their patience,” Walsh said. “We have exciting plans for Charlestown. We’re not going to stand by and let this put that in jeopardy.”
DeMaria said he has used the situation to reach out to Walsh to hopefully begin to get Boston to work together rather than against the casino.
“[Mayor Walsh] has an open invitation for me to show him our long term plan, our vision for that entire section of Everett and to develop constructive ways for our communities to work together,” said DeMaria. “It doesn’t work by tossing out baseless and tired accusations, only by working together. Boston, by not cooperating and refusing to meet with state officials is putting hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, thousands of job and my City’s future at risk.”