Mohegans still have interest in Boston casino license

This April 24, 2018 aerial photo shows construction progress on the MGM Casino complex in downtown Springfield, Mass., which is on track to open in August, a few weeks ahead of schedule. (Patrick Johnson/The Republican via AP)
This April 24, 2018 aerial photo shows construction progress on the MGM Casino complex in downtown Springfield, Mass., which is on track to open in August, a few weeks ahead of schedule. (Patrick Johnson/The Republican via AP)

Springfield, Mass. — While MGM Resorts International moved up the opening date for its Springfield casino Thursday, the Mohegan Tribe fueled speculation that it’s still interested in the Greater Boston casino license, should that license become available.

“Chairman (Kevin) Brown and the tribal council have always felt that Mohegan was the right and best operator for the Greater Boston region,” Chuck Bunnell, the Mohegans’ chief of staff, said in an email Thursday afternoon.

The tribe, which owns Mohegan Sun, vied for the Boston-area license in 2013, proposing a $1.3 billion resort casino in Revere, adjacent to the Suffolk Downs racetrack. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission favored Wynn Resorts’ $1.6 billion plan for Everett, voting in September 2014 to award the license to the Las Vegas-based operator. The commission began a review of the license in January after The Wall Street Journal reported sexual misconduct allegations against Steve Wynn, then the Wynn Resorts chairman and chief executive officer.

Wynn, who denies the allegations, has resigned and reportedly claims to have severed all ties with the company.

Amid the behind-the-scenes intrigue, MGM Resorts — said to be interested in acquiring Wynn Resorts — announced that the nearly $1 billion MGM Springfield resort casino will open Friday, Aug. 24, weeks earlier than previously scheduled. The opening, a milestone expected to reverberate in southeastern Connecticut, where Mohegan Sun and the Mashantucket Pequots' Foxwoods Resort Casino are apt to feel tremors, is just 120 days away.

The commission held a regular meeting Thursday in Springfield, with Stephen Crosby, the chairman, briefly answering questions prior to the start of the session. In regard to the commission’s Wynn Resorts investigation, he said “anything can happen.”

The “spectrum of possible outcomes,” he said, ranges from the commission doing nothing to revoking Wynn Resorts’ license. At a hearing Friday in Boston, the commission will consider Steve Wynn’s current relationship with the company that bears his name.

“The question is whether he has done enough to remove himself from the company so that he’s no longer a ‘qualifier,’" Crosby said.

Company principals who are considered qualifiers must be deemed “suitable” by the commission.

Crosby noted that the commission’s determination regarding Steve Wynn’s status will have no bearing on its consideration of whether Wynn Resorts should keep its license.

“Right now, it’s status quo,” Crosby said. “They have their license and they’re going full bore. They’ve got ... people working at the site every day.”

Wynn Boston Harbor, the Everett project's current name, now carries a price tag of more than $2.4 billion. It's about halfway built.

Crosby said the commission has received no official indication that the Mohegans would again pursue the Greater Boston license if the commission were to rebid it. In a pending lawsuit filed in 2015, the tribe argues that the commission should have found Wynn Resorts unsuitable in the first place and seeks to have the awarding of the license vacated.

Gaming-industry analysts have fueled speculation that MGM Resorts would put MGM Springfield up for sale if it succeeded in acquiring Wynn Resorts, including the Everett casino, since Massachusetts law prohibits a single operator from owning more than one casino in the state. The Boston market is far more lucrative than the one MGM Springfield is expected to tap.

Some have suggested that the Mohegans and the Mashantuckets, or one of the tribes, would be interested in buying the Springfield casino.

A spokesman for the tribes dismissed the speculation as “rumor mill trash.”

In a bid to defuse MGM Springfield’s impact on their casinos, the tribes jointly have pursued a “satellite” facility in East Windsor. The project is contingent on the U.S. Department of the Interior’s approval of the tribes’ gaming-agreement amendments with the state. The tribes believe MGM's lobbying efforts in Washington led to the Interior Department's inaction.

The tribes have razed an abandoned Showcase Cinemas building that stood on the East Windsor site, which is off Exit 45 of Interstate 91, about 12 miles from Springfield.

An MGM Springfield spokesman attributed the Massachusetts casino’s moved-up opening to the relatively good weather conditions that have prevailed since the project’s March 2015 groundbreaking. Construction has been accelerated, the spokesman, Saverio Mancini, said.

MGM Springfield, considered the catalyst for the city's recovery from devastation caused by a 2011 tornado, will feature a boutique-style, five-story hotel with 250 rooms in addition to a 125,000-square-foot gaming floor with 2,550 slot machines, 120 table games, a poker room and a high-limit VIP gaming area. Dining and retail options will be included.

The casino will provide entertainment through partnerships with the 8,000-seat MassMutual Center as well as Symphony Hall and other local venues.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

This April 18, 2018 photo shows construction progress on the MGM Casino in downtown Springfield, Mass., which is on track to open in August, a few weeks ahead of schedule. (Don Treeger/The Republican via AP)
This April 18, 2018 photo shows construction progress on the MGM Casino in downtown Springfield, Mass., which is on track to open in August, a few weeks ahead of schedule. (Don Treeger/The Republican via AP)

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