Threaten Steve Wynn? Nope, said Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston. What might have sounded vaguely threatening early last week — when the mayor suggested that a Wynn casino proposal in Everett would have to go through him — was simply a gag.
“I was being a little wise,” said the mayor, who has favored a competing casino proposal at Suffolk Downs.
But not everybody has such a broad sense of humor when truckloads of money are involved, and there are those who interpreted Menino’s comments to reporters Monday as a warning shot at an Everett proposal that could snatch a casino license away from the East Boston racetrack.
“My impression of the mayor’s comments is that he wants the casino at Suffolk Downs, and the mayor has a reputation for getting what he wants,’’ said Carl Jenkins, a managing director for the consulting firm CBIZ Tofias, who has studied the Massachusetts casino market. “Why should anyone be surprised?”
What Menino was actually trying to say, the mayor insisted Thursday, is that he wishes somebody from the Wynn project, planned for the former Monsanto Chemical site on the Mystic River, would pick up the phone.
“Nobody approached us at all,” said Menino. “We are the gateway to that site.” If roads to the site need improvement, for instance, they probably will be roads in Boston, he said. “You would think they would have the common sense to talk to me or the [Boston Redevelopment Authority] director.”
Menino’s comments on Everett and the coming casino battle caused a kerfuffle within the state’s hyperscrutinized fledgling gambling industry.
“The interesting part of it is I own part of the Everett piece,” Menino told reporters Monday, referring to a finger of land within Boston’s city limits that crosses the Mystic and runs into the Monsanto site.
The mayor further raised eyebrows by breaking into an exaggerated laugh.
“And you know something,” he continued with a chuckle, “to get into the Everett piece, you have to go through my property.”
The state gambling commission controls three casino resort licenses and will issue no more than one in Greater Boston. In the contest between Wynn and Suffolk Downs, at least one developer is guaranteed to walk away empty-
Menino denied he was trying to put an early kibosh on Wynn’s proposal, though he did not have kind things to say about the “small site in an industrial area” on “dirty land.”
“They’d have to build the Taj Mahal to get anybody to go there,” Menino said.
It seems unlikely the mayor could legally leverage the city line to stop the Wynn project, hypothetically, if the mayor were not actually joking. While mayors in host communities have the power to stop casino projects dead, officials in neighboring communities cannot.
Under state law, casino developers must negotiate agreements with neighboring communities to provide money to deal with traffic and other potential problems, but a neighboring city cannot block a casino by refusing to negotiate or by asking for unreasonable compensation. The state gambling commission has the power to force a deal if a stubborn neighbor will not sign.
Menino could argue that Boston should be considered a host community along with Everett because a narrow slice of the Monsanto property lies within the city of Boston. But the Everett development group anticipated this potential pitfall, and Wynn Resorts intends to buy only the part of the property in Everett.
“The company has no plans for development in Boston,” Wynn spokesman Michael Weaver said in a statement that did not directly address Menino’s original comments. “We have had positive and constructive communication with [Mayor Carlo DeMaria of Everett] and look forward to working with the Everett community.”
In an interview, Stephen Crosby, chairman of the state gambling commission, referred to Boston as a “surrounding community” to the Everett project, with legitimate concerns about traffic and other issues that Wynn will need to address in negotiations.
People closely involved with the Everett project do not want a public fight with Menino, but are quietly confident that the fall of the city line poses no problems for public access to the site. They claim to have reached out to Menino through an intermediary but were rebuffed.
Neither Suffolk Downs officials nor DeMaria, Everett’s mayor, would comment.
The widespread perception that Suffolk Downs has too much political horsepower to be beaten in the casino sweepstakes has affected the casino industry and chilled competition in Greater Boston, as well as annoyed the commission that controls the licenses. Crosby has insisted repeatedly that the contest will be decided strictly on the merits of each proposal.
Within Everett politics, the sense persists that Menino’s shadow may blot out any chance at a gambling resort. City Alderman Salvatore F. Sachetta noted Menino’s support for a Suffolk Downs resort, and the presumption that House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo also favors a casino at the track.
“I would love to see it come to Everett,” Sachetta said, “but I doubt we have the power to overcome those guys.”