Our Opinions : Casino Bombshell

The possible re-entry of Las Vegas casino billionaire Steve Wynn into the bidding of the only Greater Boston area casino license has created a new twist into what was thought to be an almost certain lock by the owners of Suffolk Downs and its partner Caesar’s Entertainment who had been the sole bidders for the license.

On Monday, Everett city officials confirmed that Wynn and another casino developer are looking at a site in the Route 99 area of the city.  The site was the former land occupied by the Monsanto Corporation behind the present Gateway Mall development.

Wynn’s possible entry brings more questions than it does answers.

For Boston and Revere officials, who had almost started to count the added revenue of a casino at Suffolk Downs in their fiscal planning, this new twist brings a lot of uncertainty. Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo was believed to be having the owners of Suffolk Downs, who also own the former Wonderland Dog Track site, give the City of Revere the entire Wonderland Dog Track land as part of a mitigation package.  If this happened, then there was talk of then turning the site into the home soccer stadium for the New England Revolution.  This project could now be in question for years.

The reaction in the coming weeks of local political titans to the unfolding new twist will be interesting to observe. Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, whose district would benefit tremendously, has been one of the key supporters of a casino at Suffolk Downs. Boston Mayor Tom Menino also has pushed Suffolk Downs since the City of Boston would reap a huge windfall in new tax revenues. Both men know how to get what they want, and it is doubtful if they would let this opportunity pass without a fight.

The timing of Wynn’s process could also be a factor.  Potential casino license bidders need to submit a relatively standard phase 1 application to the newly formed state gaming commission by January 15, 2013 along with a non-refundable $400,000 check for the Phase I deadline.  Wynn, who had tried to build a development in Foxboro with Robert Kraft earlier in the year, had to abandon his plans when voters of Foxboro turned down the zoning changes that would have been the first step in the casino process. So the critical question is whether there is enough time for Wynn to begin his process and complete all the steps required for a casino in Everett.

While the East Boston led opposition group has seemed to find renewed energy for their efforts to stop a casino at Suffolk Downs, the new question is will the residents of Everett want a casino in their city. This is a question that has yet to be answered. It seems Mayor Carlo DeMaria is confident that residents of Everett will welcome the new proposal as well as the tax revenue in a neighborhood that is predominatly heavy industry and very far away from most of Everett’s residential neighborhoods.

The awarding of the only Greater Boston area casino license is still two years away.  The owners of Suffolk Downs and Caesar’s Enetertainment have already done much of the leg work to take the primary steps for a license.  The biggest wild card among all these questions that have been raised is whether Wynn will make a gamble and throw down $400,000 for the application fee, not yet knowing the answers to all the variables.  This is truly a Las Vegas bet.

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