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Top-10 reasons the Massachusetts Gaming Commission got it right in Boston

22 September 2014

Last week, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission announced that it would award Steve Wynn the lone Boston-area casino license, as the Wynn Resorts proposal in Everett beat out a proposal by Mohegan Sun to build a property at Suffolk Downs in Revere.

While I am not convinced that the path to the decision was as straightforward as it could have been, I do believe the decision was the right one. As a Massachusetts resident, I look forward to the next phase of the development process, assuming Bay State voters don't repeal the casino legislation in a referendum in November.

Here are the top-10 reasons the MGC got it right.

10. Regional vs. resort
There's no doubt Mohegan Sun has been successful with its destination casino in Uncasville, Connecticut and another property in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. (I can't comment on the Pennsylvania property as I haven't been there, but the one in Connecticut is incredible.)

Wynn, however, has some of the best casinos in Las Vegas and also in Macau. His properties draw people from around the world, while Mohegan Sun tends to draw a much more regional crowd. Mohegan Sun's plans to only market the casino to northern New England (ignoring the lucrative Connecticut and New York markets so as not to cannibalize its Connecticut property's revenues) was concerning.

The original goal of the gaming legislation in Massachusetts was to build three resort casinos that would draw people from outside of the region. The Wynn plan is more likely to accomplish that goal.

9. Mohegan Sun proposal too highly leveraged
This gets down to the nitty gritty of what concerns regulators, but it is very important. Mohegan Sun's plan would utilize less cash and more loans and investors. This is a problem and would give anyone with knowledge of what happened to Foxwoods in Philadelphia, pause for concern.

It's one thing to win a license to build a resort casino. It's another thing entirely to have the money to get it done. Wynn Resorts isn't likely to run into financing problems, and with a process that's already been delayed much longer than necessary, the MGC made the right call in picking a project that will should have shovels in the ground as soon as possible, assuming the casino repeal referendum fails in November.

A Google Maps satellite image of the site in Everett where Steve Wynn has proposed to build a resort-casino.

A Google Maps satellite image of the site in Everett where Steve Wynn has proposed to build a resort-casino.

8. Cleans up and environmental disaster
Look at this satellite image of Everett. It's hard to believe that across the river there's a beautiful green space and thriving commerce in Assembly Square in Somerville (including the newly built LEGOLAND).

The site where Wynn in Everett will be located is polluted and contaminated, thanks to years of abuse by the Monsanto Chemical Company. No one would touch this property with a 1,000-foot pole, and it has sat vacant and unused for decades. As part of the construction project, Wynn has committed to cleaning up and decontaminating the site, solving a decades-long problem and removing an embarrassing eyesore from the greater Boston area.

7. New businesses should not be forced to prop up a failing business
People who work at Suffolk Downs had pinned their hopes on keeping the racetrack alive with Mohegan Sun's proposal to build a casino there. I feel terrible for folks at Suffolk Downs who will lose jobs if/when the racetrack closes later this month as a result of the MGC's choice of Everett, but I don't think it should have been a factor in the decision. If horse racing at Suffolk Downs isn't profitable, why should a casino be forced to prop up that business? Now that valuable real estate can be used for something else, and there won't be a costly cleanup associated with finding another use for the land.

6. Gives New England a new casino brand
With the MGM set to open in Springfield, Massachusetts, and Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun located in Connecticut, New England will have four distinct major casino brands. (There are other small casinos in Rhode Island and Maine, but nothing as big as those four.)

It's nice to have choices. Would you rather have a choice of 10 different restaurants eateries offering 10 different experiences? Or would you rather have 20 different McDonald’s restaurants to choose from?

5. Proximity to I-93
I was initially in favor of the plan at Suffolk Downs because there is easy access from the MBTA's blue line, while there is no easy public transportation to/from the Everett location. However, given the idea that this casino is going to be bringing in people from outside of Boston, the Everett's location's proximity to major interstates, especially I-93, makes it preferable. It will make the traffic situation a bit dicey in the short term, which is worrying in a city that is known for terrible traffic. But the MGC received assurances from Wynn that he would help pay for reconstruction to help alleviate traffic problems.

While I'm sure that many casino employees would appreciate having easy public transportation to and from the casino, I think focusing on the visitor's experience is the right thing to do. And hopefully Wynn can provide shuttles to and from public transportation for employees and visitors, and maybe there will be an effort to provide public transportation to the site down the road.

4. Gives the Boston casino a clean slate
While the focus of this resort will be to bring people from outside of the area to Boston, it will also be a great draw for people who live in the region. Putting the new property at Suffolk Downs wasn't as likely to draw interest from people who live in the region, because they were already aware that Suffolk Downs existed and didn't go there. A brand- new property at a site where there is currently nothing will result in curious people heading to Everett to check the new place out. The Everett site has no baggage associated with it, whilelike Suffolk Downs, a dilapidated old race track, does.

3. No one should care about Charles Lightbody
The Wynn proposal became controversial late last year when the Boston Globe wrote a story indicating that Lightbody stood to gain millions if Wynn bought the land and developed the property.

Lightbody, who by all accounts isn't a great guy and has an extensive rap sheet, was apparently a secret investor in the property, and people didn't like the idea that such a person should profit from a casino deal.

Here's the problem with that thinking: Lightbody served his time and is a free man. No one is alleging the he obtained an interest in the property through illegal means. The land owners now say he will not make a cent from the deal. But even if he does, so long as he isn't involved in future casino operations, it shouldn't matter. While Lightbody certainly would not be eligible to receive a gaming license from the state, the person who sells property to a casino shouldn't have pass that test. If they're not going to be involved after the sale, I don't care. There are too many positives to this deal to get hung up on this minor and insignificant detail.

2. East Boston didn't want a casino
When the Massachusetts casino legislation was passed, it seemed like a done deal that the Boston-area license would be granted to Suffolk Downs and Caesars. Then Caesars got wind that it likely wouldn't pass suitability and they backed out. A few weeks later, East Boston residents rejected the idea in a referendum on building at the site 56-44, though it did pass in Revere 61-39.

Then, Suffolk Downs officials announced they would move the site so it would only be in Revere. The MGC allowed Revere residents to vote on such a proposal again, and it passed. Talk about disenfranchising voters! If you don't like the results of a referendum, do you just move the jurisdiction to one where you think you can win and do essentially the same thing?

In a year where the MGC faced a fair number of controversies, this was the most inexcusable, in my opinion. While competition from Mohegan Sun likely got the state a better deal from Wynn, giving Mohegan Sun and the folks at Suffolk Downs hope just to get competition is unethical, in my opinion. And if the MGC was really prepared to go forward with a plan at Suffolk Downs without the approval of East Boston voters, then I guess the will of the people really doesn't matter.

1. Everett residents overwhelmingly want a casino
Casino referendums failed in almost every local community where they were proposed in Massachusetts. But in Everett, it was a landslide with a whopping 86.5 percent in favor of the proposal. If a community wants a casino that badly and you have to overturn another vote in order to get approval in another community, why wouldn't you choose the location where six out of seven people want to see a casino?

Congratulations to Everett, which is going to get exactly what it voted for, and also to East Boston, whose voice may have been ignored, but is also getting what it asked for at Suffolk Downs.
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.