Dream big, Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby said at a Thursday forum, even if casinos are your worst nightmare.
“Now is the time to talk to the bidders,” Crosby told attendees at a Suffolk University forum Thursday morning. “This is the moment of absolute maximum leverage. There will never be a moment like this again.”
Two out of the three bidders for the lone license in the Metro Boston and Worcester area shared the stage with ardent opponents, who claimed casinos would lower property values and quality of life, and questioned the jobs projections the proponents used. The third contender, Wynn Resorts, has already negotiated a host community agreement with Everett, though its bid will still face a vote in the city and review by the commission, which will weigh it against the other proposals.
“We’re looking for a wow factor. We’re looking for something special. We’re looking for something different,” Crosby advised the applicants in introductory remarks.
Foxwoods Resort Casino CEO Scott Butera, who aims to build a casino along Interstate 495 in Milford, touted the Connecticut resort, which is the biggest casino in North America, as a much larger version of what he has in mind for the suburban town.
“You don’t have to be the biggest game in town,” said Butera, who contrasted his approach of leaving 80 percent of the wooded site undeveloped against the “McMansion” style of home architecture.
Impact on property values
“What’s not being addressed is the impact on property values,” said Steve Trettel, of Casino Free Milford, alleging that casino proponents can’t solve all the problems casinos might create. He said, “For some influx of financial help to the town, why would we ever want to give up the semi-rural, suburban environment of our town?”
Suffolk Downs Chief Operating Officer Chip Tuttle, who wants to convert the Revere and East Boston horse racing track into a Caesars Entertainment resort, offered up downtown Boston attractions as a highlight of his proposal.
“We want to partner with local hotels,” said Tuttle, who said partnerships with restaurants and theaters would be part of the proposed resort. He said, “It’s an approach that is more collaborative.”
Celeste Ribeiro Myers, of No Eastie Casino, said city officials and Suffolk are aligned in trying to secure the license for the track, though it would be possible for Milford, East Boston and Everett to reject the proposals.
“Only one of these locations can be awarded a casino, if you consider it an award, however it’s important to note that none of us has to have a casino,” Myers said. She said, “We can’t get access to the most basic data. We’re marching to an arbitrary timeline that’s been set by the Gaming Commission and our local officials.”
Wynn, which abandoned a casino proposal for Foxborough last year after anti-casino candidates won a local election, did not appear at the forum, but assistant Everett city solicitor David Rodrigues spoke in support of the proposal and the roughly $30 million he said the city would receive even before the casino opens. Wynn is the only developer to secure a host community agreement and none of the municipalities in the region have held a referendum on an agreement.
“This certainly was not something that was railroaded,” said Rodrigues, who said Mayor Carlo DeMaria’s first concern was jobs for the city.
“Have you been to casinos? People lose money at casinos,” said Everett resident Evmorphia Stratis, who said she is concerned about human trafficking and areas around casinos resembling Atlantic City, N.J.
The question could be put to voters soon, as Crosby said the plan is to license a slots parlor by this October, if not sooner, and two casino licenses by February or March, 2014, if not sooner.
Asked after the forum whether Suffolk’s political arm had taken an interest in the race to replace Boston Mayor Tom Menino, an avid Suffolk supporter, Tuttle said, “I don’t think it makes any difference whatsoever. The process should be complete during Mayor Menino’s term.” He said, “The local process should be complete between now and the fall.”
Tuttle said the vote on the Suffolk Downs proposal would be for Revere and East Boston residents only unless the Boston City Council decides to make it citywide. The vote will take place between 60 and 90 days after a host-community agreement is signed, according to the city’s website.
Crosby asserted that before the commission grants a casino license, local government and citizens will have the opportunity to decide whether they want a casino in their city or town, through the agreement and the referendum.
“This is up to the locals,” Crosby said
“This is up to the locals,” Crosby said. He said cities and especially towns should draw on Gaming Commission resources as they negotiate with better resourced and more experienced casino developers.
“There’s no limits on what a host community can ask for,” Crosby said. “There are limits, obviously, on what a bidder will give.”