Casino experts say Boston Mayor Martin Walsh’s lawsuit against the Massachusetts Gaming Commission may be an attempt to get a better mitigation package from Wynn Resorts, which wants to put a resort casino in nearby Everett.
“I would say that Mayor Walsh is trying to get a sweeter deal from Wynn, who doesn’t appear to be interested,” said Rev. Richard McGowan, a Boston College professor who has written extensively about casino gaming.
The mayor’s office confirmed that as host community, Boston would be entitled to additional mitigation planning and funding from Wynn, but said it could not provide any monetary estimates.
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On Monday, Walsh announced the city was suing the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, saying it should be considered a host community for Wynn Resorts planned resort casino in Everett since the only access point to the resort is through Charlestown. Host communities, under state law, are able to approve or reject a casino in their district. Walsh wants Charlestown voters to be given that option.
Dr. Patrick Kelly, the head of the accountancy department at Providence College who studies casino gaming, also acknowledged that the city could be using the lawsuit as a way to gain leverage in negotiating a mitigation package with Wynn.
“I don’t want to question their motivation but they have been recently trying to negotiate an agreement,” said Kelly. “The amount a host community is going to receive versus the amount a surrounding community will receive – those will be very different.”
Walsh said during the Monday press conference he hoped the suit would bring about a “true mitigation package,” specifically for nearby Sullivan Square.
Ivey St John, a Charlestown resident and member of the Rutherford Avenue/Sullivan Square Advocacy Group, said that Wynn’s current plans for the square will “lead to absolute gridlock.”
“It’s a formula for disaster,” she said.
She did not necessarily agree that the mayor was using the suit only to extract concessions from Wynn.
“I’m not prepared to say that,” said St John. “I’m prepared to say that the mayor is doing the best he can to protect Charlestown.”
The suit may turn on how the term “host community” is defined in the state’s casino law, according to the experts.
“The state has a pretty specific definitions in terms of what is a host community and what is a surrounding community,” said Kelly. “And it’s pretty clear, the definition says host communities are based on location. The case could hinge on that.”
McGowan said it would be “really tough for Boston to claim it is a host community.”
“The legislation clearly states that (the) casino has to be in the community for it to be host,” said McGowan.
St John also acknowledged the challenges presented by the law’s wording.
“The suit is a terrific idea, but I’m concerned about the city’s ability to win,” she said.
McGowan also cast doubt on the city’s central claim – that the only way to get to the casino is through Charlestown. He called such an assertion “debatable.”
Thomas Cunha, the chairman of the Charlestown Neighborhood Council, welcomed the suit, saying it will “open dialogue.”
“I thought we should have had a vote before this,” said Cunha, a 62-year-old retired MBTA worker who has lived in Charlestown his whole life. “We’re the gateway into it. We’re going to be closer to the front of that casino than any other community – including Everett.”
The casino would greatly affect his neighborhood’s quality of life. Cunha is concerned Sullivan Square traffic jams will cut Charlestown off from the North Shore.
A call to the Everett mayor’s office was not returned Tuesday. The Gaming Commission also did not return multiple phone calls this week and Wynn has declined to comment on the litigation.