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Gambling panel stands up to Boston mayor

Stephen Crosby will participate in the hearing.

David L. Ryan/Globe staff/file 2013

Stephen Crosby will participate in the hearing.

The state gambling commission on Friday rebuffed Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s call for its chairman to recuse himself from any involvement in licensing a casino in the Greater Boston region.

Casino regulators will also press ahead with a hearing in two weeks to determine if Boston deserves more influence over two casino proposals on its border, despite Walsh’s boycott of the process, which he has blasted as unfair to the city.

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“The commission has frequently been presented with complex matters of law requiring fair and judicious decision-making by the five appointed commissioners,” said the panel’s spokeswoman, Elaine Driscoll, in a statement that made clear that gambling commission chairman Stephen Crosby will participate. “This matter is no different.”

The Walsh administration on Thursday had accused Crosby of bias against Boston and its efforts to gain more influence over the casino proposals, saying, in a letter, that he “has made several statements, which the city deems prejudicial.” The letter, signed by Elizabeth Dello Russo, a lawyer for the administration, also referred to a federal lawsuit by Caesars Entertainment that accuses Crosby of bias.

Crosby has not directly responded to Walsh’s statements. Driscoll said on Friday: “The commission’s role is not to participate in or be distracted by the politicizing of certain aspects of this process but instead to remain focused on the mission and challenge at hand: to successfully implement the expanded gaming law in a manner that is participatory, transparent and fair.”

Next month’s hearing is intended to help clarify if Boston qualifies as an influential “host community” to a Wynn Resorts casino proposal in Everett and a Mohegan Sun casino plan at Suffolk Downs in Revere. Under the state casino law, host communities wield considerable power over gambling projects, including the ability to block them at the ballot box.

The new mayor insists that Boston has the right to hold binding votes on the casino proposals, as a host community. The mayor says the Charlestown neighborhood should be permitted to vote on the Wynn project and that East Boston residents deserve to decide the fate of the Mohegan Sun proposal.

‘The commission’s role is . . . to remain focused on the mission and challenge at hand.’

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Wynn and Mohegan Sun are the only applicants left standing in the sweepstakes for the sole Greater Boston resort casino license.

To sort out Boston’s host claims, the commission in early April set a May 1 hearing on the matter, and invited interested parties to submit briefs on whether Boston qualifies as a host community for one or both of the projects. Wynn Resorts, Mohegan Sun, the city of Revere, and the East Boston-based casino opposition group No Eastie Casino submitted briefs by the deadline.

Walsh declined to participate in the commission’s process by submitting a brief, but he raised a number of objections in an earlier letter.

“The facts put forth in our letter remain the city’s position in these matters, and we continue to keep all of our options on the table right now,” Walsh spokeswoman Kate Norton said in an e-mail Friday.

State casino law defines a host community as “a municipality in which a gaming establishment is located” or proposed. A gaming establishment is defined as “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 argued that both casino projects depend on Boston’s transportation network and that the city is “a key selling point” of each proposal.

In its brief to the commission, Wynn cited a joint statement it issued with former mayor Thomas M. Menino’s administration in 2013, which said the parties agreed to begin discussions “about Boston’s status as a surrounding community,” a designation under the casino law that would not permit the city to hold a binding vote on the project.

The company also asserted that nothing in the casino law permits a city to declare it is a host community.

“The gaming establishment proposed by Wynn is still and always has been located entirely within the city of Everett,” the company wrote. “As such, Boston’s assertion that it is a host community should be rejected.”

Mohegan Sun, which intends to lease about 40 acres in Revere from Suffolk Downs for a casino, included in its brief a legal description of the property.

“The boundary of the leased premises runs along the city line between Boston and Revere for approximately 878 feet, but the property line does not cross over into Boston at any point,” the company wrote. “Planning will continue to evolve moving forward, but the result will remain the same: no element of the gaming establishment will be located in the city of Boston.”

The city of Revere supported Mohegan Sun’s position, saying the casino would be “located solely within the municipal boundaries of Revere.”

Casino opponents from East Boston, however, asserted that the Suffolk Downs racetrack, mostly in East Boston, is an amenity of the Mohegan Sun project, and therefore Boston should be a host community to the Revere project. The opponents note that Revere was a host community for an earlier Suffolk Downs casino plan on the East Boston side of the city line. The earlier project was defeated in a local referendum last November.

“We recognize no cognizable practical difference between the latest iteration of the so-called ‘Revere-only’ gaming establishment and the prior plan, which was based almost entirely on the East Boston side of the property,” wrote representatives of No Eastie Casino.

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