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Wynn, Mohegan Sun joust for Boston casino license

Steve Wynn spoke before the state gambling commission at the Boston Convention Center.

Jessica Rinaldi For The Boston Globe

Steve Wynn spoke before the state gambling commission at the Boston Convention Center.

Mohegan Sun delivered a polished argument Wednesday for its casino plan, complete with professional-grade video, music from the Dropkick
Murphys, and narration from a familiar local sportscaster.

The other contestant for the license, Steve Wynn, delivered, essentially, himself.

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Speaking off the cuff and without notes, the chairman of Wynn Resorts described his development record and business philosophy, as builder and operator of some of the most famous and successful hotels in Las Vegas and added pointed critiques of his rival, arguing that Mohegan Sun would steer its high rollers to its flagship casino in Connecticut.

“We don’t give a damn about Connecticut,” Wynn said.

Mohegan Sun and Wynn Resorts are competing for the sole Greater Boston resort casino license, expected to be the most lucrative in Massachusetts. Mohegan Sun is planning a gambling resort in Revere on land belonging to the Suffolk Downs racetrack. Wynn has pitched a casino hotel on former industrial land on the Mystic River waterfront in Everett.

Mohegan Sun CEO Mitchell Etess spoke to the panel.

Jessica Rinaldi for The Boston Globe

Mohegan Sun CEO Mitchell Etess spoke to the panel.

Each developer has already submitted thousands of pages of documents to support its application. The public presentations Wednesday before the five-member state gambling commission had almost no rules beyond a 90-minute time limit, with the developers welcome to use the time as they saw fit.

The presentations were as different as the leading men presenting them.

Mitchell Etess, chief executive of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, addressed the commissioners with a bright urgency, admitting later that he was a little nervous with the stakes so high and the time to make an impression so short.

Throughout the presentation, he gushed with enthusiasm for the project: The casino would be an “amazing” experience, a “very unique experience,” even. The transportation network around the site is “really incredible.” Access from Logan Airport would be “super-easy.”

And the public transportation to the casino’s front door? “Unprecedented.”

Mohegan Sun used nearly all its allotted time, checking practically every box on issues important to the gambling commission: economic development, jobs, traffic planning, sensitivity to the environment, workplace diversity, problem gambling.

Kevin Brown, chairman of the Mohegan Tribal Council, summed up a primary theme of his tribe’s argument for the license: “We are the home team.”

Having run a casino for 17 years on tribal lands in Connecticut, Mohegan Sun insisted it knows the market and what local customers want. Even the introductory video suggested the home team: It was narrated by sportscaster Bob Neumeier, a familiar voice on Boston television and radio for some 30 years.

In designing the Revere facility, architects drew upon the casino’s surroundings, dominated by strong horizontal features: the ocean, Revere Beach, the wide open space of the Suffolk Downs racetrack oval and infield. They designed horizontal buildings with hotel towers intentionally kept low. Ornamental pillars are designed to mimic tremendous umbrellas, echoing in huge scale the parasols from the nearby beach.

“We have the wow this market wants and what Massachusetts deserves,” Etess said.

The building is designed so that patrons would be able to look out over Suffolk Downs next door.

Mohegan Sun, which intends to lease about 42 acres from Suffolk Downs for its casino, was clear about its relationship with the last thoroughbred racetrack in New England: The future of racing at the struggling track depends on Mohegan Sun winning the casino license.

The Mohegan presentation offered only mild criticism of Wynn. Mohegan presenters suggested the building should reflect the local community and not be imported from other jurisdictions, a reference to Wynn’s proposed use of similar hotel towers in Everett and a now defunct Philadelphia casino entry.

Wynn’s presentation, by contrast, took less than one hour and was built almost entirely on Wynn and his reputation as a “premium” name in the gambling business.

Wynn Resorts president Matt Maddox told commissioners that the project — now projected to cost $1.6 billion, up from earlier estimates of $1.2 billion — would make about $800 million a year in gambling revenue, bolstered by the company’s focus on big players in the national and international market. The more traditional regional casino, he said, would make only about $500 million a year in the Boston area.

“That extra $300 million? That’s the premium business,” Maddox said.

Upon taking the microphone, Wynn immediately promised his presentation would differ from the “lovely job” done by Etess. He gave passing mention to the “225 pounds” of documents he has submitted to support his application and then spoke for some 30 minutes with barely a pause, boiling down the casino tourism industry as the science of “getting people over there to come here.” To do that, Wynn said, “what’s here has to be better than what’s over there.”

Being better in a competitive market such as New England, he said, begins with “the guest experience,” which led him into his first attack on Mohegan Sun’s plan. His rival’s horizontal layout, Wynn said, would force staff and customers to walk more and would make running the property more difficult. In the morning, he said, when nearly every hotel guest wants breakfast in the same 75- or 80-minute window, a building laid out vertically, like Wynn’s project in Everett, cuts the delivery time for room service, so buttered toast arrives hot.

“God lies in the details in these buildings,” Wynn said several times.

He also said Mohegan Sun misfired by planning a “three star hotel” as one of two hotels on the property. That, he said, “is not going to bring anybody from outside the region.” Wynn said he will build a five-star hotel.

And he suggested Mohegan Sun would have ample incentive to steer high-rolling table players to Connecticut, where the tribe shares no table game revenue with state government. In Massachusetts, the state tax on table game revenue is 25 percent.

“What do you think they’re going to do with a big customer?” Wynn asked.

The Mohegan team seemed taken aback by Wynn’s truncated presentation, in which the celebrity billionaire reminisced about chumming around with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and barely addressed the multitude of specific licensing criteria on which the commission will judge the projects.

“Our presentation today was responsive and respectful to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and the thorough process they have established,” Mohegan Sun said in a statement Wednesday evening.

The commission is scheduled to hear a presentation Thursday by MGM, the one surviving applicant for the Western Massachusetts license.

The panel expects to award the two gambling resort licenses by May.

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