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New mayor not ceding rights on casino proposals

A conceptual design shows a proposed casino development by Mohegan Sun on the parcel of Suffolk Downs in Revere.

Suffolk Downs/AP

A conceptual design shows a proposed casino development by Mohegan Sun on the parcel of Suffolk Downs in Revere.

Two casino companies pitching gambling projects on the Boston border have drawn their proposals to avoid touching even a grain of Boston soil, denying the city the leverage to demand a ransom of cash payments and other benefits as a “host community.”

But new Mayor Martin J. Walsh is not ready to concede host city rights for either project. In his first action on the casino issue, Walsh has petitioned the state gambling commission for time to further investigate grounds for greater negotiating rights that could be worth tens of millions of dollars.

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The developers, Wynn Resorts and Mohegan Sun, have proposed casinos within a dice throw of the Boston city line, in Everett and in Revere.

By building up to — but not over — the city border, the developers intend to avoid making Boston a host community for their projects. Both companies say they consider Boston a “surrounding community” under the state casino law, a lesser designation that would allow the city to negotiate for compensation but without much leverage to drive a rich deal or the right to hold a public referendum on the project.

Walsh, sworn in on Monday, is asking the gambling commission for a 30-day delay, until Feb. 10, of the deadline for the city to accept offers from each developer to negotiate under the lesser designation.

‘The city requires additional time and input from [Mohegan Sun] to discern what its status is with respect to the proposed . . . casino.’

Elizabeth Dello Russo, lawyer for the City of Boston 
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Relief from the deadline would give the city “the first meaningful opportunity to review each of the casino proposals — for which it may be either a host or surrounding community — so as to better understand and protect the public interest,” Elizabeth Dello Russo, a lawyer for the city law department, wrote in a letter sent Thursday to the gambling commission.

The two developers are competing for the sole Greater Boston resort casino license, expected to be the most lucrative in the state. The gambling commission expects to choose a winner in May.

Dealing with the emotional casino issue has been high on the new mayor’s agenda: On Tuesday, Walsh’s first full day in Boston City Hall, he sat for separate briefings with representatives from Mohegan Sun and Wynn Resorts. The Mohegan Sun delegation included Mitchell Etess, chief executive of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority. The Wynn contingent included Stephen Tocco, chief executive of ML Strategies, which represents the international gambling giant.

Asked about the briefing, Mohegan Sun said in a statement: “We’re looking forward to working with Mayor Walsh and the City of Boston to achieve a strong surrounding community agreement.”

Tocco, in an interview, called the briefing with the mayor “a very good first meeting.”

Mohegan Sun has proposed a resort casino on about 42 acres in Revere to be leased from Suffolk Downs, the thoroughbred racetrack that straddles the East Boston-Revere city line. The casino project must be entirely on the Revere side of the border out of legal necessity: East Boston voters in November rejected a Suffolk Downs casino plan in their community; Revere voters endorsed the proposal on the same day.

After losing the East Boston vote, Suffolk Downs gave up its long pursuit of its own casino license and quickly struck a deal to lease its Revere property to a Mohegan Sun-owned gambling resort. The gambling commission waived one of its deadlines so Revere can hold a referendum on that project in February.

On Dec. 31, the last day applicants could file documents to complete their bids, Boston officials received two “un-indexed” file boxes of material from Mohegan Sun’s application, according to Dello Russo’s letter.

Some documents were withheld due to confidentiality issues, she said, and others were “described in insufficient detail for the city to make a considered evaluation.”

“Given these deficiencies, the city requires additional time and input from [Mohegan Sun] to discern what its status is with respect to the proposed . . . casino,” Dello Russo wrote.

The city made similar complaints about documentation withheld by Wynn, according to Dello Russo’s letter.

Wynn has proposed a casino resort on former industrial land on the Mystic River waterfront in Everett. The Boston city line juts sharply across the river along Wynn’s planned construction site — so close that then-Mayor Thomas M. Menino claimed last year that a portion of the project could be in Boston.

The company denied Boston was a host community and the dispute came before the gambling commission at a public meeting in September. Maps displayed by Wynn at the meeting showed all of the company’s proposed development on the Everett side of the city line, and Boston soon agreed to begin talks as a surrounding community.

But since September, Wynn has filed an enormous amount of additional material, including its application for a gambling license and state environmental documents. Walsh does not want to formally accept the lesser, surrounding community designation until the city’s experts can review the new documents.

Gambling commission spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll said by e-mail Thursday evening that “any requests for additional time would go before the commission for consideration. However, they have not been inclined to adjust deadlines unless absolutely necessary.”

Mark Arsenault can be reached at mark.arsenault@globe.com.

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