The City of Boston joined Revere and Somerville in filing a lawsuit against the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) in Suffolk Superior Court asking the court to vacate the license agreement given to Wynn in Everett by the MGC last November.
A cornerstone to the argument are the impacts on Charlestown.
The 74-page filing by Boston brought up issues ranging from the problematic land ownership situation in Everett, casino site access, traffic in Charlestown, what was referred to as “mock hearing” two years ago on Boston’s Host Community status and many other issues going back to the beginning of the entire process involving Wynn.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said he has been working diligently with Wynn to negotiate a fair agreement that benefits the people of Boston, but has been unable to reach an agreement that accurately represents the impact to the City.
“We have spent an enormous amount of time and sustained effort on the casino issue over the past year since this is something that impacts every single one of our residents,” Walsh said at a press conference Monday that announced the filing. “We have understood from day one the complexity of this issue as it relates to the City and it has always been our belief that Boston is a host community. Our priority is to protect the people of Boston and ensure the safety of our neighborhoods. It is clear to us that this is the best way to move forward for Charlestown, the City of Boston and the entire Commonwealth.”
Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria said he had hoped things could have been worked out without litigation from Boston and other communities.
“I was hoping we could work collaboratively with the City of Boston, the City of Everett and the City of Somerville…[Boston] should have participated in the surrounding community process and they didn’t. I know Mr. Wynn went up to see Mayor Walsh. I know the group had tried to meet with them several times. I don’t understand it…We weren’t asked when the City of Boston put their waste facility right on our border. I didn’t protest when Somerville put an IKEA in Assembly Row. We know what that does to small business…I am hoping we can all sit down together and solve the issues and talk about them.”
Asked if it was just sour grapes, DeMaria paused and said, maybe.
“For a long time Suffolk Downs was a favorite,” he said. “A lot of big Boston people were behind it. I went to the meetings there and saw the plans with the other mayors. To have someone else come in and compete with them in the region; yes they are disappointed. Maybe it is sour grapes from one of the mayors or maybe both of them.”
Wynn officials and the MGC have repeatedly told a different version of the events than Boston – noting that they tried to sit down with Walsh several times before the awarding of the license, but he did not show up or contact them.
Wynn officials told that to the MGC numerous times during deliberations last November, prompting the MGC to work out special provisions to benefit Charlestown and the traffic situation in Charlestown just prior to awarding the casino license.
On Monday, the MGC said it hadn’t read the full complaint, but had addressed issues raised at the press conference numerous times already.
“During the past year, we have addressed the issues the City raised at [Monday’s] press conference – multiple times in a public and transparent manner,” said MGC Spokesperson Elaine Driscoll. “The Commission believes that we have reviewed these issues thoroughly, objectively and fairly, and that exhaustive review helped lead to the decision to award the Wynn license with appropriate conditions. The Commission continues to believe that our resolution was appropriate but also fully understand that parties who are disappointed in our decisions may want to test that belief through litigation.”
The City of Revere filed a lawsuit in October shortly after the awarding of the license, calling for the licensing decision to be vacated. Revere has filed numerous briefs and letters in the interim on that case. The City of Somerville just filed a lawsuit last month on nearly the same terms.
One of the issues raised by Walsh was the issue of access to the casino site, which was raised two years ago and dismissed by the MGC after a two-hour hearing.
Boston believes there is no access point to the casino except by Horizon Way, which is halfway in Everett and halfway in Boston.
Meanwhile, Wynn has been in the process of negotiating an alternate access site that is entirely in Everett and runs through the MBTA Maintenance Yard facility property.
That land sale is still in the works of the state procurement process, and Wynn has an agreement to buy the land for $6 million cash from the MBTA. That process began with the MBTA in September, and has been protested by owners of Suffolk Downs and by the City of Revere.
Securing that site has been a key piece of the puzzle for Wynn in preventing Boston from claiming host status. In Monday’s suit, Boston claimed that the process of securing that land hadn’t happened quickly enough.
“Wynn has planned to develop a casino on a parcel of land located in Everett and in Boston known as the former Monsanto Chemical Site,” read the filing. “Due to the location of the casino site, the City of Boston will bear the lion’s share of the traffic, environmental, and public safety harms. Wynn disputed that access to its site would be through Boston, promising the Commission that it would obtain access through adjacent property in Everett owned by the MTBA. Wynn, however, has failed to obtain access through Everett within 60 days of the award of the license – as required by law – leaving the sole access to the site through Boston.”
The filing also criticized the hearing that was held by the MGC two years ago relating to the Host Community claim held by Boston due to the Horizon’s Way access issue.
MGC Commissioners heard both sides of the argument, and in the end dismissed the argument wholeheartedly and asked Boston and Wynn to go back and work out differences offline. That didn’t happen, though, and Boston was eventually deemed a Surrounding Community rather than a Host Community. A Surrounding Community Agreement (SCA) was never inked between Wynn and Boston, though.
On Monday, Boston said it was re-inserting its right to be a Host Community – calling the MGC hearing on the issue a “manipulation” and a “mock hearing.”
“Fearful that Boston voters would reject Wynn’s proposal due to public safety and traffic concerns, the Commission improperly barred Boston’s citizens from exercising their statutory right to vote,” read the complaint. “During the gaming licensing process, Boston repeatedly asserted that it was a host community, which prompted the Commission to conduct a hearing to determine Boston’s legal status. The Commission manipulated the outcome of the hearing by withholding documents from the City that had direct bearing on Boston’s host community status, advocating on behalf of Wynn, and deliberating and predetermining the outcome outside the public hearing context, in violation of the Open Meeting Law and the Gaming Act. As a result of the mock hearing, the Commission rejected Boston’s assertion of host community status and declared Boston to be merely a surrounding community, with no right to vote. During the hearing, the City challenged the validity of Wynn’s application on the grounds that Wynn did not have a viable site for its casino and was legally unsuitable under the Gaming Act. Absent a viable casino site, Wynn’s application could not proceed and the issue of Boston’s status as a host community was moot.”
Boston bases most of that argument on the idea that the land deal in Everett is fraudulent and, thus, does not give Wynn and actual gaming establishment – as required by the Gaming Law.
Another cornerstone of the Boston complaint on Monday were flaws in the MGC’s protections instituted for Charlestown. The complaint said the City concluded those protections were not adequate.
“The Commission nevertheless imposed nominal traffic mitigation conditions on Wynn that fall far short of the statutory requirement,” read the complaint. “As to the impacted neighborhood of Charlestown, the City has expended considerable resources over many years to develop plans to transform the Sullivan Square area from a major traffic thoroughfare into a walkable, pedestrian–friendly neighborhood. The City’s principal objectives are to diminish traffic congestion, eliminate gridlock, and improve public safety in this area. The Commission’s traffic mitigation conditions are wholly contrary to the City’s planned use of its streets in Charlestown. The Commission was required to impose conditions that would mitigate traffic. This necessitated the imposition of conditions requiring Wynn to re-route casino traffic away from Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square. Instead, the Commission imposed conditions that will do nothing to prevent the exacerbation of existing congestion by introducing thousands of additional vehicles to the area.”
The complaint went on to read that by going ahead with the Wynn planned casino, it would create an “intolerable traffic crisis” in Charlestown.
The suit will now wind its way through Suffolk Superior Court, as are the other two similar suits from Revere and Somerville.