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Gambling Commission Won't Wait On Referendum For Licensing Decision


The Massachusetts Gaming Commission will not delay a decision on awarding the state’s most lucrative casino license until after the state’s voters weigh in on the fate of casino gambling.  It means the locations of proposed casinos will likely be settled by the time voters go to the polls in November.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission voted 4-0 Wednesday to continue working toward the assignment of a casino license in greater Boston, which is now expected to happen in September.  The commission rejected a petition by Boston Mayor Martin Walsh to delay its work until after November 4th, when voters will decide if Las Vegas-style gambling will remain legal in Massachusetts.

Commissioner James McHugh said given the uncertainty of the outcome of the voter referendum on repealing the state’s casino law, it made no sense for the commission to put its work on hold for four months.

" It is not appropriate at this stage to grant a stay."

Commissioners have already designated MGM Springfield for the lone casino license in Western Massachusetts and awarded a license to Penn National Gaming for a slots machine parlor.

The commission is in the final stages of reviewing the applications for the sole casino license available in greater Boston. Mohegan Sun wants to build a casino in Revere at the Suffolk Downs racetrack. Wynn Resorts proposes a casino at a former chemical plant in Everett.  Both sites border parts of the city of Boston.

During a hearing that preceded the commission’s vote, the chief attorney for the city of Boston, Eugene O’Flaherty, urged the gaming industry regulators to stay the licensing process.

" If there is no stay of the proceedings and if expanded gaming is repealed in November the entire licensing proceedings will be rendered moot. This means the city will have needlessly expended significant amounts of money, time and effort engaging in negotiations and arbitration with the applicants. Arbitration is especially time-consuming and very costly."

When pressed, O’Flaherty said he could not estimate what the arbitration process would cost. While other communities surrounding the casino sites have struck agreements with the developers for annual mitigation payments, Boston has not. 

Boston’s mayor has argued that given the city’s size and influence it should be designated a host community—that would give Boston voters a veto over a casino project.  The gaming commission has rejected Walsh’s claim to host community status for casinos in Revere and Everett.

Everett Mayor Carlos DeMaria, who supports the Wynn casino proposed in his city, said Boston has repeatedly tried to derail the licensing process.

" To keep belaboring this and putting it off it sends a bad message to people in the Commonwealth that we can't get our act together."

Attorneys for Mohegan Sun and Wynn both argued strongly for the commission to move forward toward a license award.

                Commissioner Enrique Zuniga said the voters would be making a more informed decision if the locations and other particulars of the casino projects are known before election day.

" I think the public interest is served by continuing with the proceedings."

The State Supreme Judicial Court, in a unanimous decision, said anti-casino activists could put a question on the ballot asking voters to repeal the state’s 2011 gaming law.

MGM is delaying construction of a proposed $800 million casino in Springfield until after the vote.  Penn National is continuing to build the slots parlor at a harness racetrack in Plainville, near the Rhode Island border.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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