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Everett mayor wants casino vote before background checks

The site of a former chemical plant in Everett where developer Steve Wynn is looking to build a casino.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The site of a former chemical plant in Everett where developer Steve Wynn is looking to build a casino.

Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria wants to hold a casino vote in June, and is protesting a state requirement that communities must wait to hold referenda on casino projects until the gambling commission completes backgrounds checks on casino developers.

“There is nothing in the gaming law that requires suitability investigations to be one-hundred percent completed prior to an election taking place,” DeMaria wrote to the state gambling commission Monday. The mayor has been negotiating with Wynn Resorts over a planned hotel casino resort on the Mystic River waterfront.

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The requirement is the commission’s policy, and had been expected to be cast in stone by the panel as a formal regulation. But after hearing from DeMaria and the Wynn company, the commission is expected to revisit the issue on Thursday.

The ongoing background checks on the applicants are expected to take months and are probably not going to be done in time for a June vote. Communities are reluctant to hold summer votes, when residents are on vacation and turnout could be low, which could push the referenda to the fall.

The local votes are an essential part of the application process for coveted state casino licenses. No project can complete its application until the host community has endorsed the project at the ballot box.

The timing of the referenda has been a point of complaint for months. Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno has pushed for the right to hold a vote as soon as his city is ready, perhaps by June 25, which happens to be the date for the special election to fill the US Senate seat left vacant by John Kerry’s resignation to become US secretary of state. Piggybacking the local referendum with the Senate election is seen as a way to assure a high turnout among voters.

From the commission’s point of view, waiting to hold the votes could save communities the vast trouble of a divisive campaign if in the end a bidder is ruled unsuitable by the commission, due to shaky finances or relationships with reputed mobsters or people of questionable character.

Commissioner James McHugh argued last week that campaign rumors and false information about a developer’s fitness could even affect a vote, if elections take place before an applicant earns the commission’s stamp of approval.

“Allowing an election to proceed before we finish the qualification process risks injecting into the middle of an electoral process information that has not been verified, that may not be true and that affects perceptions of the qualifications of the applicants in a way that would be unhelpful and distracting from the issues,” said McHugh, at a commission meeting April 4.

DeMaria shrugged off the concern, saying rumors and innuendo are part of every election.

The mayor’s final point is that a longstanding, successful casino developer such as Wynn is likely to be qualified to bid in Massachusetts.

“I’m willing to assume the risk on behalf of the people that elected me to represent them,” the mayor wrote. “If it turns out that I am wrong, the voters of the City of Everett have an opportunity to voice their opinions the next time my name appears on the city-wide ballot for reelection.”

Mark Arsenault can be reached at marsenault@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bostonglobemark
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