Massachusetts panel won't delay decision on Boston-area casino

Massachusetts gaming regulators Wednesday rejected Boston officials’ request that a decision on the awarding of the Greater Boston casino license be delayed until after a November referendum on the 2011 law authorizing casinos in the state.

Instead, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission will proceed with its consideration of the competing casino projects proposed by Mohegan Sun, in Revere, and Wynn Resorts, in Everett. The commission had previously adopted a schedule calling for a decision by early September at the latest.

The four sitting commissioners voted unanimously, agreeing that Bay State voters would be better informed in November if the commission proceeded with its business.

The City of Boston had asked for an immediate halt to the commission’s consideration of the Greater Boston license, citing costs the city could needlessly incur in negotiating “surrounding community” agreements with Mohegan Sun and Wynn Resorts. Such agreements would be rendered moot by a vote to repeal the casino law.

Eugene O’Flaherty, the city’s corporation counsel, also argued that a stay was in “the public interest” and that media reports showed support for casinos has waned, “making it likely that expanded gaming will be repealed.”

Lawyers for Mohegan Sun, Wynn Resorts, Revere and Everett all urged the commission to deny Boston’s request. Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria said a delay in Wynn Resorts being granted the license — if, indeed, Wynn does win the competition with Mohegan Sun — would cost his city millions of dollars in casino-related payments.

“What you’ve heard, is that they are afraid of democracy,” Thomas Frongillo, an attorney for Boston, told the commission. “They want you to issue the license to influence the (referendum) vote.”

Attorney Bruce Barnet, representing Mohegan Sun, said there was no reason to conclude the Election Day ballot initiative would succeed. He cited results of a WBUR poll released Wednesday in which 56 percent of the respondents said they approve of Massachusetts casinos, while 38 percent disapprove. Six percent of the respondents were undecided, or refused to answer.

In recent months, WBUR polls have detected increasing support for casinos. In March, the margin favoring casinos was 46 to 43 percent; in May, it was 49 percent to 39 percent.

Commissioner James McHugh, the panel’s acting chairman, questioned O’Flaherty about Boston’s intentions if the referendum failed. He said it troubled him that the city had “unilaterally” suspended surrounding community negotiations with Mohegan Sun and Wynn, and suggested the city might continue to pursue its claim that it is a “host community” for both casino projects, a claim the commission has rejected.

“That train has left the station,” McHugh said.

O’Flaherty said it would be speculative to say what the city’s course might be.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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