This casino thing is starting to get really exciting!
We’ve seen some gorgeous presentations from gambling moguls eager to bring their magical, towering, glassy, luxe emporiums of chance to some of our state’s humble, down-at-heel — OK, grim — locales.
Mayors have put lots of municipal eggs in baskets woven from developers’ dreams. In the next couple of months, the voters of Springfield and Everett will have their chance to embrace those dreams at the ballot box. Others will follow.
And then, at the end of the summer, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission will tell us which operators are worthy of our trust. Some skeptics (who, moi?) would say none of them, given that casinos are in the business of convincing people they can beat impossible odds. But let’s ignore the party poopers! If all goes well, three casino licenses will be issued early next year.
Our days of heaven are finally near — and as they approach, people are demonstrating some serious high-stakes behavior.
Can we start with Steve Wynn? Just because I can’t get enough of him and his Vegas razzle-dazzle. The Siegfried-and-Roy-caliber facial work. The fact that he put his elbow through a Picasso. The way he trumpets his proposed casino on a polluted Everett industrial site as a Shangri-La. In a presentation last week, Wynn made his Everett resort — two words never before linked in human speech — sound like “The Tree of Life” of casinos. His palace on the Mystic would not be about just taking money from mugs who never win. Oh no, this would be about the very forces that created the universe — sun, water, oxygen, plants.
“When I’m trying to touch people, I stick pretty close . . . to those fundamental forces of life,” he said.
What a showman! Who doesn’t love this?
Mayor Tom Menino, that’s who. Before Wynn burst onto the scene, a casino at Suffolk Downs was looking pretty inevitable. Menino, and House Speaker Bob DeLeo, want the jobs and the other benefits a casino at the moribund track would bring, and they want them bad. The casino legislation passed in 2011 seemed to grease the way, restricting the required vote on the proposal to residents of Revere and East Boston — excluding voters in the rest of Boston, to whom a casino would be a harder, and more expensive, sell.
Menino is annoyed that Wynn did not discuss the proposal with him, given that a little finger of Boston land is adjacent to the Everett site.
“Nobody approached us,” Menino said earlier this year. “We are the gateway to that site.”
How delectably hypocritical coming from a mayor who opposes a citywide vote on Suffolk Downs. After all, Boston neighborhoods on the other side of the tunnel are gateways to East Boston, are they not? A few mayoral candidates made that argument this week, but they’ll have no influence on the matter, which will be settled before Menino leaves office.
There’s a similar rush to go all-in out west. Take the odd case of Springfield’s mayor, Domenic Sarno. Courted by two casino developers, he recently cast his city’s lot with MGM. I’m sure this unseemly haste had nothing to do with the money MGM was throwing around town — some $10 million in planning, advertising, consultants, fireworks, Christmas lights, and donations.
The city will likely vote on the MGM proposal in July. Sarno is taking a chance here, embracing MGM before the gambling commission rules on its suitability to run a casino. In 2009, the commission’s New Jersey counterpart raised concerns about MGM’s operation in Macau, the only place in China where casinos are legal. There, the father of an MGM partner was linked to organized crime. That was too close a connection for the New Jersey regulators.
Will it fly here? MGM has distanced itself from its problematic partner, but the Massachusetts Gaming Commission is taking the concerns seriously, dispatching investigators to Southern China to look into not only MGM’s dealings in Macau, but Wynn’s, too.
Officials in Springfield and Everett are clearly betting there’s no there there. But as any party pooper will tell you, every gamble is a risk — especially with this many chips on the table.