Eight cities and towns north of Boston want a piece of the state’s casino action, filing petitions with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to be named a “surrounding community” to $1 billion gambling resorts proposed for Everett and Revere.
The state’s gambling law requires a developer to identify surrounding communities that would bear the brunt of its development, and to negotiate an agreement to address local concerns. But the law also allows for a community to apply to the commission to be designated as a surrounding community.
In addition, the gambling law requires developers to address the impact a casino’s entertainment would have on nonprofit live entertainment venues. The Massachusetts Performing Arts Coalition filed a petition on behalf of Lynn Auditorium, seeking designation from both Mohegan Sun and Wynn.
The developers have until Thursday to respond to the petitions, which outline a variety of local concerns, such as traffic, crime, and quality of life. They vary in length, from a single-page letter to a 165-page submission from Everett regarding Mohegan Sun.
“We’ve always viewed this as a regional development,” said Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer at Suffolk Downs. “But there are some communities for which our impact will be negligible.”
A Wynn spokesman said the casino operator is only interested in negotiating with the three surrounding communities identified in its application with the gaming commission: Boston, Malden, and Medford.
“The Commission has asked applicants to focus on actual impacts to communities,” Michael Weaver, a Las Vegas-based spokesman for Wynn, wrote in an e-mail. “We do not believe other communities qualify as surrounding communities under the legislation.”
In a statement issued last week, the Gaming Commission said it “strongly encouraged” developers and communities seeking surrounding community status to “try to reach a mutually acceptable solution.”
Communities that submitted petitions will be invited to make presentations to the Gaming Commission on Jan. 28. The meetings could stretch into two days. The commission is expected to make a decision on each petition at public meetings to be scheduled for mid-February, said Elaine Driscoll, the commission spokeswoman.
At stake are millions of dollars in road and traffic improvements, public safety, job opportunities, and other economic benefits. Hotels, spas, restaurants, shops, and a 24-hour casino are planned for each development.
“These are both dramatic proposals,” said Medford Mayor Michael J. McGlynn. “They raise a number of issues, especially traffic, that will have wide impact.”
Some communities sought surrounding communities status to make sure their concerns are heard.
“We wanted to make sure Melrose has a voice in this process,” said Robert Van Campen, the city solicitor in Melrose, which has sought designation for each project. “We’re concerned about the impact on our region’s roadways and our local businesses.”
Wynn and Mohegan are competing for the one resort casino license available for Greater Boston, which is expected to be awarded by the commission by May 30.
Wynn signed an agreement with Malden in October to provide $1 million in annual payments, and to give residents hiring preference for permanent jobs. Negotiations are ongoing with Medford, where Wellington Circle — the high-traffic intersection of Routes 16 and 28 — lies less than a half-mile from the proposed site of the Everett casino.
“Overwhelmingly, traffic is the big issue for our residents,” said McGlynn, who has asked city residents to e-mail him their casino concerns. “My number one priority continues to be [resolving] traffic at Wellington Circle.”
In Revere, Mohegan Sun has identified Boston, Chelsea, and Winthrop as surrounding communities. Mohegan is also proposing a group designation for Malden, Medford, Lynn, Salem, and Saugus.
The goal is to address potential areas of common interest, such as traffic patterns and joint marketing opportunities, Tuttle said of the proposed development of the Revere portion of Suffolk Downs.
“We don’t believe these communities necessarily reach the status of a surrounding community,” he said. “But we would like to have an agreement that ensures they benefit from the development.”
McGlynn is concerned about the impact Mohegan’s development would have on Revere Beach Parkway, which runs through Medford.
“I can see where some cars will want to come right off [Interstate] 93, and shoot down there to get to Suffolk Downs. That’s going to impact the quality of life in our neighborhoods,” he said.
Mohegan has reached a tentative agreement with Chelsea.
The pact calls for an annual payment of at least $2.5 million to the city, along with a commitment to spend $2.5 million annually with local businesses, and to set aside 5 percent of the development’s 4,000 permanent jobs for Chelsea residents.
“Our concerns mainly were about public safety, traffic, and infrastructure,” said Chelsea City Manager Jay Ash, who negotiated the deal with City Council President Matt Frank. “They [Mohegan] pretty much agreed to fund it. The negotiations went fairly smooth.”
Tuttle agreed the deal is fair. “It recognizes the potential impacts, and ensures that the city will reap tangible benefits,” he said.
Ash was disappointed that Wynn did not designate the city as a surrounding community, since he had met with representatives before the Dec. 31 casino application deadline.
“The Wynn project would be a half-mile from the Chelsea border,” Ash said. “I don’t see how anyone could say we’re not going to be impacted. “
But Weaver, the Wynn spokesman, said that’s likely not in the cards.
“Based on our analysis, we determined that Chelsea would not be negatively impacted by our project,” Weaver said.
“In fact, we believe Chelsea will be positively impacted economically by our resort.”
Mohegan is still negotiating with Winthrop.
Town Manager James McKenna said he is looking to strike a deal that addresses the potential broad impact the casino would have on the peninsula town.
“Winthrop is on the doorstep of Suffolk Downs,” McKenna said.
“And now, potentially, we’re going to find ourselves in the shadow of a very large development.”
Traffic, along with public safety, top the town’s concerns, McKenna said.
“People have to travel out of town to get most of their needs met,” he said.
“We need to make sure the development doesn’t put more strain on traffic and travel time.”