After the personal intervention of Governor Deval Patrick, state casino regulators delayed on Thursday a hearing and decision on the city of Boston’s claim that it deserves more say over two casino projects near its borders.
Members of the state gambling commission hope a one-week delay will give Mayor Martin J. Walsh an opportunity to reach agreements with developers Wynn Resorts and Mohegan Sun, potentially avoiding contentious arbitration or a lawsuit.
However, the developers each said they have not met with Walsh in weeks, undercutting optimism for a quick resolution.
In comments to reporters, Walsh said past discussions with the developers “haven’t gone to where I’d like them to go, so we’re going to take one more crack at them this week to see where we can go and see if we can come up with some type of understanding.”
The commission had been prepared to hear arguments Thursday morning about Walsh’s disputed claim that Boston qualifies under state law as a “host community” to a Wynn casino proposal in Everett and a Mohegan Sun gambling resort plan at Suffolk Downs racetrack in Revere. The commission had intended to go through with the hearing despite Walsh’s boycott of the proceeding, which he has sharply criticized as stacked against the city’s interests.
Host communities have great power over casino projects and can block them through local referendums.
In a surprise, the Walsh administration asked the commission Wednesday afternoon for at least a one-week delay so the city could review “new information which may be forthcoming from the applicants.” The city did not explain in its letter to the commission what new information it expected to receive. Walsh said later it was technical information and “some odds and ends.”
Walsh’s relationship with the commission has been strained. Last month, the mayor accused commission chairman Stephen Crosby of bias and called on him to recuse himself from any decisions related to licensing a casino in Greater Boston.
About 6 p.m. Wednesday, Crosby received a call from Patrick, who appointed him to lead the gambling commission in December 2011. It was the first time the governor had contacted him on a casino issue, Crosby said.
The governor, according to Crosby, said that he had talked to Walsh and that “the parties were close enough that it was worth agreeing to the request [for a delay] for a week,” Crosby said. “I understood that he meant some kind of an agreement.”
That was news to the developers.
“We have not had any substantive conversations with the city of Boston for 20 days,” Wynn Resorts said in a statement. “We received a letter from the city [Thursday] at 11:20 a.m., notifying us of their intention to seek a postponement of the . . . meeting that had already begun and one which the city chose not to attend.”
A person working on the Mohegan Sun project, who was not authorized to speak about it publicly, said: “We haven’t had a meeting with the mayor in weeks. We had a series of good meetings with him and his team and felt we made progress. Nothing changed.”
The developers both say their projects are not in Boston and therefore the city is not a host community. They have offered to negotiate compensation with Boston as a “surrounding community,” a lesser designation that would not permit the city to hold binding votes that could jeopardize the projects.
Walsh says that both projects would depend on Boston’s airport and infrastructure. He also says access to the Wynn property is through Boston and that the Mohegan Sun project cannot be separated from the Suffolk Downs racetrack, most of which is in East Boston.
Patrick’s intervention raised eyebrows in Everett, where Mayor Carlo DeMaria said he has been trying to meet with the governor on casino issues for many months, but was told by Patrick’s office that he “was going to stay out of it.”
“I wish I had the access Marty Walsh has with the governor,” DeMaria said. “I seem not to have that access.”
John Ribeiro, head of the Repeal the Casino Deal campaign, which is seeking a statewide vote on a repeal of the casino law, also questioned why Patrick would intercede with Crosby to win more time for Boston.
“The fish clearly rots from the head, and something is really starting to stink,” Ribeiro said.
Patrick said through a spokesperson that Walsh asked him to support the delay and that Patrick agreed it could be helpful if the parties had a little more time to amicably resolve the dispute.
Crosby defended the governor, confirming that Patrick never tried to sway him on the substance of Boston’s host community claims, only the timing of the hearing. “I think it was well within the use of the good offices of the governor to weigh in on a procedural matter like this,” he said.
Walsh maintained Thursday that the Charlestown neighborhood should vote on the Wynn project, and East Boston should have a say on the Mohegan Sun plan. “My concern is what’s in front of me right now and looking at East Boston and Charlestown,” Walsh said. “I’ve said all along I’d like to have those communities have a vote and I’m sticking to that.”
The gambling commission hopes to choose a winner from the two rival proposals later this year.