Lyndon Johnson Would Have Smiled Knowingly at this Rule on MA Casino Property Deals

Friday, April 18, 2014

“I can at least make the son of a bitch deny it,” Lyndon Johnson would say when he was Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate.

“It” was something unsavory and/or regrettable in the background of someone who was standing in Johnson’s way.  “It” only had to be within the realm of possibility, not unquestionably true.
Johnson or one of his minions would feed the negative info to a compliant news person.  Soon enough, the Leader’s adversary du jour would get a call.  It did not matter if he meekly conceded the information was true or vehemently denied it.  There’d still be a story.  As a headline, “Senator Smith Denies Beating Wife” is as irresistible as “Senator Smith Admits Beating Wife, Expresses Remorse.”

When the Massachusetts Gaming Commission decided to make the parties who are selling properties to casino license bidders swear that no criminals will profit from the deals, I’m sure the commissioners did not have Lyndon Johnson’s tactics in mind.  It’s only a coincidence that the commissioners have come to stand in the footsteps of the great Texas arm-twister.
A cloud hangs over one of the co-owners of a property in Everett where Steve Wynn hopes to build a casino because that person reportedly declined to sign a statement affirming that no criminals will make anything on the deal.  The co-owner in question is not signing that statement “under the advice of his criminal counsel,” according to the Boston Globe.

A $1.5 billion casino project and the hopes of an entire city for a massive, multi-year casino pay-out hang on this question of an unknown law-breaker profiting or not. 
By so far avoiding the question, the co-owner has forced the gaming commission to infer that someone with a record will make a buck. 

If the situation remains unchanged, the commission will either have to invalidate the effort and funds Wynn has expended in Massachusetts or change one of its key policies.    
The commission wants to ensure that all property transactions are pristine and that every consequence of those transactions is pristine, too.   Depending how you feel about casinos, you bow to their ethics or you shake your head at their wooly idealism.

The commission is holding Wynn accountable for: (a) the people he’s doing business with, and (b) the people doing business with the people he’s doing business with.  Wow.
You can be sure Wynn is tearing his hair out over this.

As quoted in a just-published article in CommonWealth Magazine, Wynn is not happy that the state’s casino-enabling legislation requires casinos to withhold taxes from the proceeds of any patron who wins $600 or more, and he will likely try to amend that part of the law if he secures the eastern Massachusetts casino license.  The withholding issue is small beans compared to the policy denying land-sale profits to anyone with a felony conviction.
[Sticking for a moment with this digression, here’s the question from CommonWealth editor Bruce Mohl about withholding taxes from casino winnings and Wynn’s answer.  Mohl:  “One of your concerns is a requirement that anyone receiving winnings of $600 must pay withholding on those funds at the casino.  Why is that bad?”  Winn: “You can’t do that.  You can’t treat everybody like they’re a deadbeat dad when they cash out $600.  That’s like everybody is presumed to be a bum.  A table-gaming person comes in three days in a row.  He loses on Friday.  He loses on Saturday.  He loses $10,000, but wins $600 on Sunday.  He’s lost $9,400 and they take taxes out.  My customers won’t put up with that and I won’t be a part of it.  It’s an outrageous mistake.”  To see more, please go to:]

You can be sure Carlo DeMaria, the mayor of Everett, is tearing his hair out over this.
DeMaria is so concerned that the project could implode on this one issue that he quickly came up with a plan to have the city purchase the casino site and resell it at the same price to Wynn.  That’s one big hoop for the taxpayers of Everett to jump through, but maybe not so big when you consider the many millions the city will get from Wynn up front and every year afterward from his casino.  Big paydays sometimes require big leaps.



Steve Wynn Is an Ask-Me-Anything-and-I'll-Tell-You Kind of Guy, God Bless Him

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Credit Bruce Mohl with producing the most interesting and lively article on our state’s entry into the wonderful world of casinos: a blunt-from-the-first-word interview with Steve Wynn in the latest edition of CommonWealth Magazine,

Mohl is the magazine’s editor and a former State House bureau chief for the Boston Globe, where he labored with distinction for three decades.  He traveled to Las Vegas to grill Wynn at his eye-popping, art-laden villa.
Wynn, who wants to build a casino on a Mystic River-front site in Everett, is battling the folks at Suffolk Downs and their gaming partner, Mohegan Sun, for the sole available eastern Massachusetts casino license.

Even if you could not care less about casinos, you should read this article because it is an all-too-rare example of a CEO speaking fearlessly on the record.  If you’re sick of corporate honchos always talking in euphemisms and hiding their true thoughts behind instantly forgettable generalities, the Mohl-Wynn interview is just what the doctor ordered.

Consider, for example, Wynn’s comments about Joe O’Donnell, who grew up in Everett and achieved fabulous success in business.  O’Donnell’s an icon in Everett.  He also happens to be a principal of the Suffolk Downs casino team.  
“The conventional wisdom all along in Massachusetts was that Suffolk Downs was going to get the license.  Did you hear that?” Mohl asks.

“Joe O’Donnell,” Wynn says, “let everyone know from day one that Boston was his.  [He puts on a Boston accent.]  ‘I’m the guy from Harvard.  Suffolk Downs?  Don’t worry about it.’  When I was in Foxborough, I bumped into Joe one day.  He said, I wish it had been you with me, Steve.  Total confidence.  Very successful man.  A man of respect.  He let everyone know – perhaps it was a strategy to discourage competition – that Boston was his.  And there isn’t anyone in America in my industry who wasn’t told that one way or another by him and [fellow Suffolk investor] Richard Fields.  They laughed at me.  And one of their partners was Steve Roth from Vornado.  He came on my boat and he said to me, we’re going to kick your ass.  He actually said that to me.”
Mohl asks, “Have you had any more dealings with O’Donnell?”

Wynn says, “When we came to Everett, I saw O’Donnell and he gave me the same speech.  Steve, you’re going to lose, you’ve got the wrong site.  I wish you had been with me, but you’ve got no chance.  When Caesar’s took a hike, or got tossed, I called him.  He said, what took you so long?  I said, what do you mean?  He said, I thought you’d have been here already.  This is your chance.  Look, I said, I’m calling because I wanted to figure out what your deal is.  He said have your guy talk to my guy, we’ll tell you everything.  He said it’s a good thing you’re calling me because you have no chance where you are.  The next day I called him back and he asked me, when are you going to withdraw?  I said, based on our conversation yesterday, I am calling to withdraw my inquiry to you.   I am not withdrawing from Everett.  Sorry.  Oh well, he said, you’ve got a problem. ..”

The Mohl-Wynn colloquy may be found at:


Transportation Committee Had the Sense to Put this Bill in the Circular File

Friday, April 4, 2014

Many years ago, my wife and I lived in an apartment above a business on the main street of a city not far from Boston. Across the street from us was a funeral home run by two gregarious middle-aged brothers.

There was a wake at the funeral home one spring night for a young man who’d been killed in a motorcycle accident.   Hundreds of mourners showed up, many of them on motorcycles. 
For three hours, we heard the roar of motorcycle engines and the squeal of rubber on pavement as the bikers arrived and departed.  We heard their voices in stunned and anguished conversations.  Things did not quiet down till close to 10.

Later, while I was bringing trash barrels from our garage to the sidewalk for pick-up the next day, I saw the younger of the two brothers.  He was on the front porch of the funeral home, smoking a cigarette.  There was hardly any traffic at that hour.
“Hello, Bob,” I said, loud enough for him to hear.

Bob waved and started down his front stairs. He felt like talking, which was usually the case.  We sat down on the granite steps at the base of the front walk to the building where my wife and I lived.
“You had quite a night,” I said. 

“You’re not kidding,” he said.
“It was pretty tough.  This kid was only 20 years old,” he said.  “A lot of his buddies and their girlfriends couldn’t take it.”

“How are his parents doing?” I asked.
“It’s just his mother who’s around.  She’s doing OK, I guess.”

“I read about the accident.  It sounded terrible.   A difficult job for you.”
“We have him looking pretty good.  They could keep it open.” 

Bob did all of the embalming at his establishment.
He dropped his cigarette on the sidewalk and ground it out with his foot.  “They had a special T shirt they wanted him to wear in the casket,” he told me.  “You know what it says on that shirt?”

“I have no idea.”
“Helmet Laws Suck.”

That conversation has never left me.  A young person dies tragically in a motorcycle accident, and because he felt so strongly about the heavy hand of government, his mom decides one final message from him to the world is in order: Death be damned.  Helmet laws still suck!

Talk about dying for what you believe in.
I guess a lot of people still feel that way, including at least one member of the Massachusetts legislature, Rep. Marc T. Lombardo, R-Billerica.  He introduced a bill this session that would have eliminated a section of state law requiring every person operating a motorcycle or riding as a passenger on a motorcycle to wear “protective head gear.”  In place of that section, which is part of Chapter 90 of the Massachusetts General Laws, Lombardo’s bill would have inserted language requiring only those motorcycle drivers and passengers who are under age 18 to wear head gear.

Fortunately, the legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation decided recently to send Lombardo’s bill, titled benignly as An Act Relative to Motorcycle Helmet Choice, to study.  This means it has virtually zero chance of being seriously considered, never mind enacted, this year.
I follow fairly closely what goes on in the Transportation Committee.  Not too long after seeing an online notice about Lombardo’s bill going to study, I read a New York Times article on what has happened in those states that have already done what An Act Relative to Motorcycle Helmet Choice would accomplish here if it ever passed: repeal the helmet law for adults.  The headline told the story: “When Motorcycle Helmet Laws Ease, a Fatal Trend Follows.”

The article said: “In the past two decades, six states have repealed or relaxed laws that required every motorcyclist to wear a helmet.  Charting fatal motorcycle accidents in each of those states reveals a definitive trend: As soon as the law changes, the number of fatalities rises.”
One of the disturbing examples cited by the Times was Florida.  The article said:

“When Florida relaxed its laws in July 2000, it required helmets only for riders younger than 21 and those with limited medical insurance policies.  Safety experts watched closely to see what would happen in the state, which has a large population and a strong motorcycle culture.

“Fatalities among motorcyclists who did not wear helmets rose more than sevenfold, to 164 in the year after the new law from 23 in the year before.”
Jeff Hennie, vice president of the Motorcycle Riders Foundation, was quoted by the Times as saying, “We are 100 percent anti-helmet laws, but we are 100 percent pro-helmet.  We believe that the government should not tell you to wear a helmet.”

I’d support that proposition wholeheartedly if the Jeff Hennies of the world agreed to encode just one stipulation in all state laws addressing head gear for motorcyclists and their passengers:  Anyone not wearing a helmet who suffers a head and/or spinal injury leading to permanent disability agrees to forego permanently any public assistance, as through Medicaid, Medicare, etc. 
I figure if you don’t want the government telling you how to protect yourself in an accident, you can’t expect the government to pay for the care you need after you get hurt in an accident.

The above-cited Times article may be found at:


In its Wisdom, Commission Could Choose to Hit 'Reset' on Casino Licensing Process

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Later this spring, the state gaming commission is expected to award the licenses to operate casinos in eastern and western Massachusetts. 

The choice for the eastern license is between Wynn Resorts and Mohegan Sun.   In the west, only MGM Resorts is in the hunt.
Wynn wants to build on an industrial site in Everett and Mohegan Sun on Suffolk Downs, a property that spans East Boston and Revere.  MGM has nailed down a site in downtown Springfield.

Legally, the commission does not have to grant licenses to any casino applicants; it can reject all of them and start the process over again.
The commission could decide, for example, that the revised plan to position the Mohegan Sun casino entirely on the Revere side of Suffolk Downs is unfair to the people of East Boston.  You will recall that East Boston voters rejected the original plan, which had the casino on both sides of the East Boston-Revere divide.  Suffolk Downs and Mohegan Sun quickly changed the plan to put the casino all in Revere, and Revere voters almost as quickly approved it. 

Likewise, the commission could decide that the Wynn Everett site, located across a busy state highway (Route 99) from a power plant, is not the ideal place for a resort casino, no matter how hard Wynn tries to make it sound fabulous.  They might also judge the potential impacts of an Everett casino on the abutter communities of Charlestown and Somerville as unacceptably high – and the same on the quagmire that is Sullivan Square.
If the commission hits the reset button on the eastern license, maybe someone would then do what someone (surprisingly) did not do two years ago: pitch a casino for downtown Boston.

A casino in the vicinity, say, of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center has a lot to commend it.  It would be close to the airport, South Station, Interstates 93 and 90, a bunch of existing hotels and restaurants, and various cultural, artistic, sports and entertainment attractions.  It would maximize the taking of casino profits from out-of-town visitors, a priority of those who fear casinos may cannibalize the limited recreational dollars of Massachusetts residents, thus hurting Massachusetts enterprises, not to mention the state lottery.

There is some pressure of a financial nature on the commission to make timely awards of the eastern and western casino licenses: gaming licensing fees totaling around $200 million have been built into the state’s current fiscal year budget, which ends June 30.

The folks constructing a slots parlor at the Plainridge harness racing track in Plainville have already paid the $25 million associated with a slots license.  If, in the next eight to 12 weeks, MGM and the winner of the eastern license each paid the $85 million required for a casino license, the total fee receipts for FY 14 would come to $195 million.
In the event the commission declined to grant the eastern and the western licenses, the budget would take a $170 million hit.  While problematical, a hole that size would hardly sink the state, especially when there’s money in the Rainy Day Fund to cover it.