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Decision on Boston area casino license could be delayed

State panel will consider Boston’s case for host-city status

The state gambling commission will undertake a nearly monthlong process to determine how much influence the City of Boston will have over two casino proposals on the city’s border, potentially pushing the awarding of the Greater Boston resort casino license back to August or later.

“We are bending over backwards to give the city a fair opportunity — a very fair opportunity — to make its case,” said commission chairman Stephen Crosby, who noted the commission had wanted to award the license in May or June. “A big price is being paid by a lot of people.”

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At stake is whether Boston qualifies under the 2011 casino law as a “host community” to a Wynn Resorts casino plan in Everett and a Mohegan Sun casino proposal at Suffolk Downs in Revere. Host communities have the power to decide the fate of casino projects through binding referendum.

On Thursday, the commission scheduled a hearing for May 1 on Boston’s status.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh last month unexpectedly declared to the commission that the city is a host community to the two projects, both very near the city line. He insists that the Charlestown neighborhood should get to vote on the Wynn project and that East Boston residents deserve to vote on the Mohegan Sun proposal.

The new mayor has also raised doubts about the commission’s power, under state law, to decide whether Boston qualifies as a host.

“There is a significant preliminary legal question concerning whether the commission has jurisdiction to decide the issue of Boston’s host community status,” Thomas Frongillo, a lawyer representing the city, wrote in a March 25 letter to the commission.

Walsh said through a spokesperson Thursday that “the City is now evaluating today’s response from the Gaming Commission and exploring the possible next steps in this process.”

State casino law defines a host community as “a municipality in which a gaming establishment is located” or proposed. 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.”

Walsh has said that both casino projects depend on Boston’s airport; bus and rail service; harbor tunnels; roadways; and other means of transportation, and that the city of Boston is “a key selling point” of each project. The mayor also says that access to the Wynn development is over a private way in Boston and that the Mohegan Sun proposal 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.

Wynn and Mohegan Sun say their projects are not in Boston, and therefore the city is not a host community. Both casino companies say Boston qualifies for a lesser designation under the law that would permit Walsh to negotiate compensation to offset the possible negative effects of a casino, but would not give Boston neighborhoods the right to vote on the developments.

If Boston wins host status, both casino projects would be in jeopardy: it’s unlikely either development would survive a neighborhood referendum in Boston.

The commission will accept public comments on the question of Boston’s status. People or groups that want to weigh in may submit briefs by April 17. Reply briefs — directly commenting on anything raised in the original briefs — will be due by April 24.

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