By Abim Thomas
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (“Commission”) held two public hearings the week of August 11, 2014 to finalize the comment process before awarding the Boston-area casino license. The Commission held the first hearing on Monday, August 11, 2014 in Revere to solicit comments on the Mohegan Sun casino proposal at Suffolk Downs, and the second on Tuesday, August 12, 2014 in Everett to solicit comments on the Wynn Resorts’ proposed casino. Previous public hearings were also held in Everett and Revere the week of June 21, 2014.
The Mohegan Sun Revere Proposal
The August 11, 2014 meeting on the Mohegan Sun proposal was held at the Revere High School Auditorium and allowed comments from the public, Mohegan Sun, and municipal representatives. The written comments received in advance of the meeting and compiled in the Commissioner’s Packet were overwhelmingly in support of the Mohegan Sun project, both as a means to “save” Suffolk Downs, and as a new project that would bring economic advantages to the community. A memorandum submitted by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council was included in the comments, which analyzed the impacts of both the Mohegan Sun and Wynn proposals on land use, transportation, mitigation of impacts, and interference with existing development and preservation plans. The memo did not present a preference for the proposals, and instead was submitted to inform the commission. The comments submitted which voice opinions against the project cited congestion and traffic issues, as well as the proximity of the proposal to schools. The local riding and horseracing community was a vocal supporter of the project, with local members arriving at Revere High School dressed in their silks and boots.
The Wynn Everett Proposal
The August 12, 2014 community hearing in Everett was held at the Edward G. Connolly Center and similarly allowed comments from the public, Wynn, as well as municipal representatives. The written comments received in advance of the meeting and compiled in the Commissioner’s Packet were similarly more in favor of approval of the Wynn proposal than in opposition. Those in support of the project most often cited economic factors, and those against cited transportation issues, particularly in the Charlestown/Sullivan Square area. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council submitted the same report as in the August 11 Revere meeting. A number of other comments advocated for more information from Wynn on mitigation measures, or sought conditions if the plan were approved. For example, the Charlestown Water Conservation Group advocated for a supplemental environmental review as it considered the current submission to be inadequate.
A representative of Wynn made a presentation at the meeting, which provided project updates on the Boston Mitigation Package Offered (including $20 million for Sullivan Square and other Charlestown roadway improvements), a Massachusetts Lottery agreement, an update on the Environmental Impact Mitigation (FEIR certificate anticipated on August 15), and continued discussions with the MBTA regarding site access. The presentation also reemphasized the strength of the Wynn design team and its historical success in previous Wynn designs.
A panel of architectural professionals convened by the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Institute of Architects evaluated the designs for the two proposals, and submitted a report with the written comments for both the August 11 and August 12 community hearings. The panel found “the proposal by Mohegan Sun for Revere was markedly superior in every design aspect to the proposal by Wynn for Everett.” In addition to preferring the Mohegan Sun design on the merits, the panel found Wynn’s subm
ission to lack sufficient information and detail – calling it “woefully inadequate” and stating that it “would not even be considered as passing muster in a normal design competition.”
The Commission’s Decision
The Commission stated that it will begin deliberations on September 8, 2014, and will continue day to day until conclusion, with an expected final vote on September 12, 2014. No matter which project gets awarded the license, though, the viability of the casino depends on the November ballot question on repealing the state’s 2011 casino gaming law.