It's What If Time: What If They Had a Round 2 in Eastern Casino Licensing Game?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Boston should stop playing the bad hand it’s holding in the casino licensing game.

Mayor Marty Walsh should make the best neighboring city mitigation deal as soon as he can with Steve Wynn.  (Wynn wants to build a casino in Everett and is competing against Suffolk Downs for the eastern Massachusetts casino license.)  Walsh should then do everything he can to persuade the Gaming Commission to reject both the Wynn and Suffolk applications. 
I’m not saying it would be easy for the mayor or anyone else to get the commission to do that at this late date.

But the interests of the city and the commonwealth over the long haul would be better served by an alternative proposal, an alternative that does not yet exist and against which the odds are high: a downtown Boston casino.
Downtown Boston, and particularly the area around South Station, is a better, more appropriate site for a casino than the racetrack on the East Boston-Revere line or the former Monsanto chemical factory site in Everett.

If Walsh decided it was worth attempting a major shake-up in casino licensing at this time, I think the people of Boston would support him.
A majority of East Boston voters voted no in the required local referendum on the Suffolk Downs casino.  In response, the Suffolk team redesigned the plan to put the casino entirely on the Revere side of its property, which only recharged the motivation of the opposition in Eastie. The people of Charlestown (not to mention Somerville) are deeply concerned about how a Wynn casino, only a long home run from Sullivan Square, would affect them. 

The sharpest point Walsh would have is financial: Boston would get many millions more per year from an in-Boston casino than it would from one in a neighboring community, no matter how good a mitigation deal it struck with an in-Revere or in-Everett casino.
I’ve been saying for a long time that South Station is the best area for the eastern Massachusetts casino. If you’re interested in my ramblings on this subject, go to

I’ve also been saying that Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker was right four years ago when he said we should license only one casino and see how it affects the state before licensing others. 

For reasons of law and politics, the one-versus-three casino argument cannot take place.  
We could, however, potentially re-do the competition for the eastern Massachusetts casino license and thereby create the possibility of a downtown Boston gambling palace, a true “destination resort” casino.  It’s a longshot but worth a try.

A recent poll showed that the Massachusetts electorate has flipped on supporting casino gambling.  Whereas before a majority of citizens favored casinos, a majority now would like to see the casino enabling legislation repealed.
It seems reasonable to infer that support for casinos has shrunk, in part, due to: (a) questions about a possible hidden ownership stake in the Everett site and a convicted felon who might benefit from the sale of the property, and (b) the very real possibility that the people of East Boston will have to endure the impacts of a casino even though they voted against having one in their midst.

One could aver that public confidence in casinos could be rebuilt by a dual Wynn-Suffolk rejection and a Gaming Commission decision to take a mulligan on the eastern Massachusetts license.






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