Mayor Martin J. Walsh is seeking far greater power in evaluating casino proposals on the city’s border, declaring that Boston is entitled to hold a referendum on each proposal, to negotiate massive compensation packages with the developers, and, if it so chooses, to block a casino from being built.
Walsh’s administration made the assertion in two letters to the state gambling commission Wednesday in which the city declares that it is a host community, under the 2011 casino law, to a Mohegan Sun casino project at Suffolk Downs in Revere and a Wynn Resorts proposal on the Mystic River waterfront in Everett.
The mayors of host communities, under the law, have vast authority to demand millions of dollars in compensation from casino developers and can kill casino projects merely by refusing to negotiate.
The gambling commission will address Boston’s assertions at a meeting Thursday.
In addition to making the declaration, the city said it is exploring options to press its case for more power in determining the fate of gambling proposals on its borders, a Walsh spokesperson said.
If the commission does not accept Walsh’s declaration, an obvious option for the city would be to file a lawsuit challenging the panel’s interpretation of the casino law.
In defending his position, Walsh argues that both casino projects are dependent on Boston’s airport, bus and rail service, harbor tunnels, roadways, and other means of transportation to do business, and that the City of Boston is the crucial component, a key selling point, of each project.
Speaking specifically of the $1.3 billion Mohegan Sun proposal, the mayor argues the developer “accesses the project through the City of Boston,” and that development is “intimately related and cannot be disentangled from the Suffolk Downs site,” most of which lies on the East Boston side of the Boston-Revere city line.
Suffolk Downs officials struck a deal last November to lease its land in Revere to Mohegan Sun for a casino after the track’s earlier plans for a resort on the East Boston side failed in a referendum. The commission extended one of its deadlines to permit Revere to hold a referendum on the new proposal in February, which passed.
For the $1.6 billion Everett project, Walsh specifically asserts that “the Wynn development accesses the project through the City of Boston, including the only access being a private way off of the City of Boston roadway.”
Wynn has an option to buy vacant former industrial land off of Route 99 in Everett on the Mystic River. The Boston city line juts across the river at that location and runs along a portion of Wynn’s proposed site.
The 2011 state casino law defines a host community as “a municipality in which a gaming establishment is located” or proposed. Drilling a little deeper into the definitions, a “gaming establishment,” under the law, is “a gaming area and any other nongaming structure related to the gaming area and may include, but shall not be limited to, hotels, restaurants, or other amenities.”
The commission had not yet been forced to interpret the law to formally decide any disputes over host community status.
Both developers say their projects are not in Boston, and therefore the city is not a host community. The developers say Boston qualifies for a lesser legal designation that would permit Walsh to negotiate compensation to offset possible negative effects of a casino, but would not grant him the power to block a project or the leverage to drive a rich deal.
The gambling commission Wednesday night acknowledged receiving the letters from Boston but did not comment further.
The two casino developers did nothing to raise the temperature of the debate Wednesday night.
Mitchell Etess, chief executive of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, issued a statement saying, “We look forward to continuing our productive discussions with the City of Boston and working with them in good faith to answer any questions they may have.”
Wynn Resorts referred to a gambling commission meeting last year at which former mayor Thomas Menino suggested Boston may be a host community for the Wynn project. The developer displayed maps of the proposed project before the commission, and the administration conceded the city was not a host community.
“The issue of Boston’s community status is one for the commission to decide, although we recall it has already been before them once,” a Wynn spokesman said by e-mail.
The gambling commission never rendered a decision on Boston’s original assertions that part of the Wynn resort may be in the city.
The commission is currently evaluating the two proposals, with the help of experts. The commissioners expect to choose a site in May or June.