BOSTON — Wynn Resorts and Massachusetts gambling regulators on Wednesday finalized a license for a proposed $1.6 billion resort casino across from Boston, but the casino company says it's not yet prepared to campaign against a looming threat: November's ballot question to repeal the state's casino law.
"We have always said that it is up to the citizens of Massachusetts to make that decision come November," said Robert DeSalvio, a senior vice president for Wynn, following the signing of the license award at the Boston teacher's union hall in Dorchester. "Whether or not we get involved at a later date, we really haven't come to that conclusion."
MGM Resorts and Penn National Gaming, who have also won state gambling licenses, have pumped at least $1.7 million into a political action committee working to defeat the ballot question. If approved, the question would effectively halt the gambling developments in their tracks.
Following Wednesday's license vote, anti-casino activists challenged Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn, as well as the heads of MGM and Penn National Gaming, Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate Majority Leader Stanley Rosenberg to a public debate on the casino question.
"The people of Massachusetts deserve more than sound bites, platitudes and million-dollar ad buys," said John Ribeiro, Repeal the Casino Deal's campaign chairman.
The pro-casino Committee to Protect Mass Jobs said it hopes to participate in debates with opponents. "We know that the more people hear about the jobs and economic development that casino gaming brings, the stronger the support there is for a 'no' vote on the repeal question," said spokeswoman Justine Griffin.
Meanwhile, gambling commission members promised Wednesday that they'll turn their attention to addressing one consequence of their decision: the possible demise of thoroughbred horse racing in Massachusetts.
Preserving the horse racing industry and the hundreds of jobs it generates had been among the top reasons lawmakers approved the state's casino law in 2011.
But Suffolk Downs, the state's remaining thoroughbred horse racing track, has said it will have to close its doors because Mohegan Sun lost its bid for the Boston-area license. The Connecticut-based casino company had proposed a $1.1 billion resort on track property in Revere.
Workers at the 79 year old track were notified Wednesday that the live horse racing season that ends Sept. 29 would be the track's last; the facility will continue to offer simulcast betting until November or December.
"We understand the tradition. We understand the good people that work there and their loss," said acting Gaming Commission Chairman James McHugh. "We're going to work hard to figure out what the most appropriate solution is."
Wynn, under the terms of the casino license, is required to give hiring preference to Suffolk Downs workers in the event the track closes.
Mohegan Sun called the license deliberations unfair. It said the commission offered Wynn ways to improve its project's deficiencies but did not do the same for Mohegan Sun's plan. The company asked regulators to give it more time to match Wynn's proposal, a request the commission denied on Wednesday.
McHugh, who had favored the Mohegan Sun project, said Wynn is taking on an enormous challenge in redeveloping the polluted former Monsanto chemical plant site in Everett.
Wynn envisions opening up the industrial waterfront to public use with a "family friendly" esplanade featuring a waterside amphitheater, shops and restaurants. He also wants to offer water ferries to Boston and the nearby airport and to pay for efforts to re-establish active oyster beds in the area.
DeSalvio, a senior vice president at Wynn, says the company hopes to open the casino in late 2017. In the meantime, the company is working to secure the necessary environmental cleanup permits. It will also draw up alternate designs for its proposed 27-story hotel tower, as gambling regulators had requested.
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