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(NECN: Peter Howe, Boston) - A slow news Friday for legalized gambling it was not: Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino finally abandoned his bid to argue geography gives him a veto power over Wynn Resorts Everett casino plan. Penn National Gaming got cleared by regulators to take over the Plainridge Racecourse slots-parlor bid. And Rush Street gaming dropped its bid for slots in Millbury.
The Wynn-Menino feud has turned on whether Las Vegas kingpin Steve Wynn’s $1.3 billion Everett, Mass. casino plan actually touches on an ancient sliver of Boston on the north banks of the Mystic River. That would make Boston, under state law, a "host community" with which Wynn would have to negotiate a host-community financial and mitigation agreement – and, put more simply, give Menino, an ardent support of the Suffolk Downs casino bid, power to kill the Wynn plan.
But state Gaming Commission regulators got sick of this squabble, especially given that it seems to turn on a provable geographic fact – where is the Boston/Everett line relative to the casino and its access roads? Earlier this week, the commission ordered Wynn and Menino to come to an agreement by Friday or the commission would step in and rule to keep the casino-license process on track.
At Friday afternoon’s Gaming Commission board meeting, chairman Stephen P. Crosby read aloud a joint statement from Menino’s administration and Wynn Resorts: "Based on the new information provided at Wednesday’s public meeting, the parties have agered to begin discussions about Boston’s status as a Surrounding Community to address the impacts that Wynn’s proposed Gaming Establishment would have on Boston generally and on the Charlestown community specifically, and therefore, no adjudicatory hearing of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission is necessary on the question of whether Boston is a Host Community."
"That's great," Crosby said after reading the joint statement aloud. "I'm delighted. You know, I'm pleased that they were able to get together and agree to this, and as far as I'm concerned, we move on to other topics."
Reiterating her statements of Thursday, Menino spokesman Dot Joyce said the administration had agreed to the statement because Wynn’s team had clearly redrawn the contours of the casino project proposal to put it all on the Everett side of the 1649 border that became the city line, which had the effect of making sure no one from Charlestown (Boston’s Ward 2) would under law have the right to vote on whether it should be built.
A brief kerfuffle over the Everett casino erupted at midday Friday when the Boston Herald posted a story online quoting City Councilor Salvatore LaMattina, a close Menino ally, claiming that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority was engaged in secret, inappropriate negotiations with Wynn to make part of an MBTA bus yard available to Wynn in Everett to help his casino bid.
The Boston Business Journal had reported six months earlier Wynn and the MBTA were talking.
MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in an email to NECN Friday: "MassDOT and the MBTA have not reached an agreement with anyone on the sale of its Everett property. We have had ongoing conversations with the City of Everett and Wynn about their plans. However, we will not enter into any agreement that would fail to account for traffic impacts in the City of Boston, nor would we be party to an agreement that would violate state procurement laws."
There was also a flurry of news in the battle for the one slots parlor license set to be awarded by December 31.
After about an hour of testimony and dozens of e-mailed statements, the four of five gaming commissioners at the meeting voted unanimously that Penn National Gaming could take over from the owners of Plainridge Racecourse the bid Plainridge had submitted for a slots parlor at the harness-racing track.
The Gaming Commission had disqualified Plainridge owners Ourway after finding that ex-owner Gary Piontkowski had for years made irregular, but documented, near-daily cash withdrawals from the track’s money room. Piontkowski left the ownership group and Plainridge’s remaining owners took up an offer from Penn National, which had been rebuffed seeking a casino in Springfield and a slots parlor in Tewksbury, to take over as the entity seeking a slots license in Plainville with an option to buy Plainridge if they win the license.
Then late Friday, Rush Street Gaming abandoned its bid for a slots parlor in Millbury, next to Worcester, after protracted and bitter local opposition, including a local poll showing residents split 48-48 over whether they wanted a slots parlor there.
"We think Millbury is a great community and we were impressed with the professionalism of the town officials and the enthusiasm we were welcomed with by so many," Neil Bluhm, chairman of Rush Street and its Mass Gaming & Entertainment, said in an emailed statement that Worcester Magazine published on its website. "We spent a lot of time in Millbury and recently it became clear to us that a majority of residents do not support a casino. As we continued our outreach, we decided that for this particular project, we should move forward only if community support was overwhelming. It is not our style to campaign aggressively and win a referendum narrowly. We prefer to join together with our host community and build something collaboratively."
with applications for the single statewide slots license due October 4, that now that leaves the field for the slots parlor down to Penn National in Plainridge versus Cordish Cos. in Leominster vs. Raynham Park in Raynham.
With videographer Mike Bellwin