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Wynn Resorts wins Boston-area casino license; Mohegan Sun 'extremely disappointed'

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Deemed bigger and better financed and promising more jobs and revenue for Massachusetts, Wynn Resorts won the coveted Greater Boston casino license Tuesday, awarded a jewel Mohegan Sun had hoped to claim.

A major player in Las Vegas and Macau, China, Wynn will now proceed with its plan to develop a $1.6 billion casino on a contaminated site in Everett, a facility expected to put further pressure on Connecticut’s struggling Indian casinos — Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, the Mohegan Tribe’s flagship facility in Uncasville.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission voted 3-1 to bestow the license on Wynn, ending the Mohegans’ bid to build a $1.3 billion project in Revere. Mohegan Sun Massachusetts would have been located adjacent to the Suffolk Downs horse track, which is now expected to close.

“We’re extremely disappointed,” Mitchell Etess, the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority’s chief executive officer, said in a phone interview soon after the commission’s vote. “We’re disappointed for the people at Suffolk Downs and for the surrounding communities we negotiated agreements with. We worked very hard to come up with a proposal that achieved the goals of the (gaming) legislation. We certainly hope Wynn can do all the things it said it will do.”

In a statement, Chip Tuttle, Suffolk Downs’ chief operating officer, said the commission’s vote is likely to cost Massachusetts thousands of jobs, small businesses and farms that depend on the racing industry.

“We will be meeting with employees and horsemen over the next several days to talk about how we wind down racing operations …” Tuttle said.

Wynn’s robust capital structure and its plans for maximizing economic development counted heavily with the commission. Wynn provided figures that showed it would create more temporary and permanent jobs than Mohegan Sun. It also indicated it would pay higher salaries.

“In terms of the number of jobs and salaries, I do think the Wynn team has an advantage,” Commissioner Gayle Cameron said.

Commissioners Enrique Zuniga and Bruce Stebbins joined Cameron in favoring Wynn.

“With respect to jobs, there’s a clear difference,” Stebbins said.

Zuniga said Wynn’s capital investment was far greater than Mohegan Sun’s, though he credited the Mohegans and their partner, Brigade Capital Management, for “meeting the spirit” of his recommendation that they invest more up-front equity in the project.

He said Wynn’s financial strength would enable it to “fare better” in a competitive market and weather an economic downturn.

Commissioner James McHugh cast the dissenting vote.

Although he, too, gave Wynn a slight edge overall, McHugh said he has doubts about the Las Vegas operator’s ability to resolve traffic issues that involve collaborating with several entities, including the City of Boston.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh refused to negotiate a “surrounding community agreement” with Wynn, complicating the commission’s role in the process, McHugh said.

“Wynn is surrounded by communities that don’t support their effort,” he said. “I have great concern whether this project can muster the kind of collaborative energy it needs to move forward.”

At a press conference following the vote, McHugh said the commission never regarded the environmental cleanup of the Everett site as a problem.

“It’s really the traffic (that’s a problem),” he said.

Etess questioned how Wynn arrived at job and salary projections that were much higher than Mohegan Sun’s.

“We really don’t understand it,” he said. “Their numbers weren’t really verified.”

Etess also disputed Zuniga’s characterization of Mohegan Sun’s financing plan.

“We’re very secure,” he said. “They asked for $100 million more (in equity) and we gave them $150 million. We’re solid.”

Mohegan Sun is expected to turn its attention to gaming opportunities in other jurisdictions.

“We did everything we could to win this license,” Etess said. “This was a big one, but we’ve got a lot of things out there — Philadelphia, the Cowlitz (a tribal project in Washington state), New York, and we’re looking at other things. We have a business plan to execute.”

The commission, which described its vote as “preliminary,” will meet today to finalize it, provided Wynn signs off on a final list of conditions.

Pending casino projects in Massachusetts — MGM Resorts has been awarded a license for a Springfield casino and Penn National Gaming has been awarded a license for a Plainville slots parlor — are subject to a November referendum that will ask the state’s voters whether the 2011 law that authorized gaming facilities should be repealed.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

Twitter: @bjhallenbeck

Press conference

Watch the press conference live on its website at MassGaming.com starting at 3:00 p.m.

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