Boston residents won’t vote on Las Vegas-style resort casinos, state gambling regulators rule

BOSTON — Boston residents will not have the chance to vote up or down on Las Vegas-style resort casinos being proposed in the neighboring cities of Everett and Revere by Mohegan Sun and Wynn Resorts, state gambling regulators ruled Thursday.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission unanimously voted, in principle, to deny the city’s request to be named a “host community” for the two casino plans, which are vying to win the sole gambling license in the state’s eastern region.

The commission instead declared Boston a “surrounding community,” a designation that entitles it to negotiate financial compensation from the casinos, but not the right to voter referendums.

The commission is expected to issue a final, written decision on the matter next week as it aims to award the eastern region license in the coming months.

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said he was disappointed with the decision, saying in a statement that he still believes residents of the Boston neighborhoods of Charlestown and East Boston, which border Revere and Everett, should vote on the two casino proposals.

The mayor did not rule out the possibility of challenging the commission’s ruling, saying he would meet with his legal team Friday to evaluate the city’s options.

Wynn Resorts, meanwhile, said it looked forward to negotiating with the city on a surrounding community agreement.

Wynn proposes a $1.5 billion casino in Everett, on a former chemical plant site along the Mystic River. Mohegan Sun proposes a more than $1 billion casino in Revere on land owned by Suffolk Downs, a horse racing track that straddles the Boston-Revere line.

Thursday’s vote came after months of intrigue over the fate of the eastern region casino license.

Granting Boston host community status would have surely meant defeat for the two casino proposals: East Boston residents last year rejected a proposed casino on the Boston side of Suffolk Downs that had initially been put forward by Caesars Entertainment.

The decision also came after Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby announced at the meeting’s outset that he will recuse himself from deliberations on the Boston-area license going forward. Crosby drew criticism this week for attending a private Kentucky Derby viewing party at Suffolk Downs. Gov. Deval Patrick, who had tapped Crosby to chair the commission, was among those who critical of Crosby.

Crosby acknowledged questions around his “behavior and judgment” had become a “distraction.”

Crosby has also faced questions for past business ties to Paul Lohnes, one of the principal owners of the Everett property eyed by Wynn. And the Walsh administration last month called on Crosby to step aside from the eastern region process, citing “prejudicial” statements critical of the city’s host community request.

Crosby will remain chairman as the commission weighs two other casino licenses — one in the state’s western region and another in its southeast. The commission has already awarded a slot parlor license to Penn National Gaming for a project at the harness racing track in Plainville.

At Thursday’s meeting, Boston’s lawyers argued that both Mohegan Sun and Wynn’s casino projects would take advantage of the city’s cultural amenities and infrastructure, including the TD Garden and Logan International Airport.

On Mohegan Sun’s proposal, the city also argued that the casino project is “unquestionably” linked to Suffolk Downs, the bulk of which is located in the city’s East Boston neighborhood. The casino countered that it would simply be leasing land from the track and that its project would be completely on the Revere side of the property.

On the Wynn proposal, the city argued that there is currently only one way to access the waterfront property: a road that crosses into Boston. Wynn’s representative countered that use of the road should not qualify the city for host status.

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