BOSTON — Boston lost its bid Wednesday to delay the eastern-region casino license process until after November’s vote to repeal the state’s expanded gambling law.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission voted unanimously to continue their review of the two casino plans still vying for the regional license: Wynn Resorts’ $1.6 billion project in Everett and Mohegan Sun’s $1.3 billion plan in Revere.
Commissioners, at a hearing at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, sided with Revere, Everett and casino officials, who argued that voters would be better informed of what is at stake if the licensing process continued.
“More information is helpful to all voters,” said Commissioner Gayle Cameron. “It’s the prudent way to proceed.”
There is no appeal process.
The panel expects to award the lone Boston-area license by early September. It has already awarded a casino license to an $800 million MGM Resorts International project in Springfield and a slot parlor license to Penn National Gaming for its development in Plainville.
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh requested the delay in the wake of the state supreme court’s decision to allow the repeal question on the ballot. The mayor has said he does not want to continue spending taxpayer money negotiating financial compensation deals with casinos while the fate of the law remains uncertain.
Eugene O’Flaherty, the city’s attorney, said awarding a license so close to the November election would also place “undue pressure” on voters. Whichever casino wins the lucrative Boston-area license would have a “huge incentive” to defeat the question, as would their labor, political and business allies, he argued Wednesday.
“Voters already have plenty of information,” O’Flaherty said. “These entities don’t want democracy to take place.”
Acting Gaming Commission Chairman James McHugh disagreed, saying that if the commission awarded the license — pending the outcome of the repeal — voters would have a better picture of where the Boston-area casino would be located and who would operate it. “It can energize voters,” he said of a license award. “But I don’t see how that skews voters.”
City officials from Revere and Everett, meanwhile, pushed back against Boston’s claim that neither the cities nor the casinos would be impacted by a four-month delay. Revere’s legal counsel noted that the cities cannot collect financial compensation payments from the casinos until the license is awarded to one of the projects.
Wynn and Mohegan Sun’s lawyers countered Boston’s argument that public opinion in Massachusetts is shifting against casinos. They touted a WBUR-FM poll released Wednesday suggesting 56 percent of likely voters support opening casinos while 38 percent disapprove. The poll surveyed 502 likely voters and had a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.
Boston, in its arguments, cited earlier polls and media reports suggesting support for casinos in Massachusetts is waning.