Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and casino mogul Steve Wynn are playing high-stakes poker — and both have a lot to lose.
At the moment, Walsh has a surrounding community agreement with Mohegan Sun, the gambling company that is trying to win a license to operate a casino at Suffolk Downs in Revere. But he has nothing with Wynn, who wants to build a casino in Everett.
The mayor refused to participate in a “surrounding community arbitration” with Wynn Resorts over how much the casino operator would pay to Boston. That left state regulators in control. Last week, those regulators decided, 4 to 0, that Boston had waived its rights to “surrounding community status” by refusing to negotiate with Wynn.
Boston can still negotiate an agreement with Wynn, even after the Massachusetts Gaming Commission awards a single license for Eastern Massachusetts, according to the commission.
Still, Walsh is taking “an enormous risk,” conceded a source close to the mayor. If Wynn gets the casino license, Boston could get zero in mitigation payments — or whatever amount the gaming commission decides the city deserves. But Walsh believes it’s a risk worth taking, for several reasons.
The deal with Mohegan Sun gives Boston $300 million over 15 years. In comparison, Wynn’s far lower offers were insulting, the source said. Wynn’s negotiating stance was risky, too. Walsh believes that Wynn may yet need Boston land to access the Everett site. If he does, that turns Boston into a host community, entitled to much more mitigation compensation.
“I don’t know if these folks think we fell off the turnip truck yesterday,” said the source — who wants to make it clear no one in the Walsh administration is that naive.
Some also believe Walsh is rooting for Mohegan Sun, and by declining to negotiate with Wynn, the mayor is trying to make sure the Everett site is the loser. A signed agreement with Boston could make Mohegan Sun’s application stronger. If he fears losing the license, Wynn might come through with a payment plan that satisfies the mayor.
And if neither side makes a deal? Then, it could be winner take all.