New hurdles in Mass. casino race

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April 1, 2014, 7:49 pm
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(NECN: Peter Howe, Revere/Everett, Mass.) - Thursday had been expected to be the day the Massachusetts Gaming Commission would finally decide a potential live-or-die question for the Mohegan Sun and Wynn Resorts casino plans: Can Boston be declared a “host community” that gets to veto – or at least extract millions of dollars in benefits from – either casino should it get built?

But now all that is scheduled for Thursday is a legal update by the commission’s general counsel, not a vote. And in an interview Tuesday morning on NECN, Gaming Commission chairman Stephen P. Crosby gave comments that could be interpreted as indications Mayor Marty Walsh won’t get good news from the casino regulators.

"A host community is defined as wherever 'the gaming establishment' goes, and we determine what 'the gaming establishment' is," Crosby said. The commission has already refused repeatedly to agree to designate that Boston is a host community to either casino by dint of parts of the city – East Boston and Charlestown – being just feet away. "We'll walk through the steps. We'll give him every benefit of the doubt and chance to be heard, and then we will make our decision."

Crosby added: "The business with Mayor Walsh is unexpected. He seems to have felt that Mayor Menino didn't do a very good job, and he's throwing out Mayor Menino's work and starting over again." (Menino aides had scrutinized the boundaries of the Wynn Resorts casino plan, which abuts a sliver of Charlestown on the north banks of the Mystic, before finally agreeing that, based on the information they had then been provided, Boston could not yet claim to be a host community. The Suffolk Downs casino, meanwhile, was going to be in East Boston but got voted down there and was shifted to the Revere side of the property, approved by a new vote in Revere Feb. 25, seven weeks after Walsh took over from Menino as mayor.)

Boston could well wind up filing a lawsuit if the Gaming Commission won’t approve its host-community-status bid.

Meantime, another big question mark has popped up for Mohegan Sun in Revere. The state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs Friday rejected a request by Mohegan Sun to reuse environmental impact statements prepared by Suffolk Downs and Caesars Entertainment for the project that was to be built in East Boston, and instead required – in a 34-page letter from Secretary Richard K. Sullivan – that Mohegan conduct a new Draft Environmental Impact Report.

Mohegan will have to produce a new report outlining the traffic, transit, roadway, pedestrian, bike, parking, shuttle-bus, aviation, air pollution, greenhouse gas emission, wetland, stormwater, wastewater, and construction-period impacts of the $1 billion casino resort and hotels, restaurants, and associated projects amounting to nearly 28 acres of new impervious surface near a 100-year flood plain.

Some Revere casino critics and boosters of the rival Wynn Resorts casino plan think this could be a big deal, and a big problem, for Mohegan, especially demands for much more traffic data to show how the forecast 21,857 new daily trips by gamblers and employees and suppliers to the Mohegan casino "may affect operations" of the Ted Williams, Sumner, and Callahan tunnels. Depending on how long the environmental review takes, and how many problems critics find with it that could be addressed, enemies of the Mohegan project think it could set the Suffolk Downs casino project’s construction back by months. Everett City Councilor Michael McLaughlin, who represents the area of town where the casino would be built, said the environmental agency’s demand for new studies "raises serious questions and doubts about how ready to go" the Mohegan Revere proposal really is and whether it should be considered a full application eligible to be voted on by the Gaming Commission.

Mohegan advisors, however, say it is no big deal, and that the vast majority of what state regulators want is work that’s already been done that just needs to be presented more clearly as associated with the new project – the Revere casino – than explained as a change from the impacts of an East Boston casino.

In a statement e-mailed by aides, Gary Luderitz, vice president of development for Mohegan Sun, said, "Friday’s decisions by the MEPA office keeps the Mohegan Sun project on track to meet or exceed the permitting and construction timetable detailed in our submissions with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. The Certificate lays out a scope of further review that is finite, easily understood and complete.  It acknowledges that the transportation aspects of the project largely mirror the prior project and looks for future details already largely completed by our development team. As importantly, the MEPA decision relating to the barn relocation project by our landlord Suffolk Downs is now officially complete."
And Mohegan backers say Wynn Resorts is hardly out of the woods with its own traffic and environmental reviews – including details state officials still want about planned upgrades of intersections and rotaries along the Revere Beach Parkway and an upgrade to the chronically-plugged-up Interstate 93 northbound off-ramp to Sullivan Square and Route 99, which would be a key source of access for gamblers, diners, and shoppers coming to the Wynn Resort. As recently as February 11, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation complained that it had still never been shown any detailed engineering plans by Wynn of what Wynn proposes to build along Revere Beach Parkway to unsnarl Santilli Circle. Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn has repeatedly promised in public appearances in Everett that the upgrades his company will build to local roads will make traffic flow actually better than it is now, even with the added traffic of a $1.6 billion resort casino on the north banks of the Mystic River. Chuck Bunnell, chief of staff for the Mohegan Tribe, said in his view Wynn’s "environmental, transportation and community mitigation plans are completely deficient."

The Gaming Commission has been hoping to make the final choice between Mohegan and Wynn in June, but expects that to slip as a result of the Boston host community issue. Crosby said even if either or both casino team is still undergoing environmental impact review by the state this summer, the commission can still make a provisional vote on which one wins the sole casino license authorized for eastern Massachusetts.

"We will make the award conditional on meeting all the regulatory hurdles," Crosby said.

With videographer Todd LaBrecque and video editor Lauren Kleciak

Tags: Boston, massachusetts, Everett, Mohegan Sun, Revere, Suffolk Downs, Marty Walsh, Peter, Wynn Resorts, MA casinos, Massachusetts Gaming Commission, MA casino
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