As gambling executives at public hearings last week described plans to build billion-dollar casinos and resorts in Revere and Everett, the mood was overshadowed by Tuesday’s Supreme Judicial Court decision ruling that voters will have a final say at the polls in November on whether gambling should be legalized in Massachusetts.
For the two cities vying to become casino hosts in Greater Boston, the court decision throws into question whether either will reap the financial benefits of agreements with Mohegan Sun and Wynn, which have offered each city at least $25 million a year.
If voters repeal the casino law, it would void any decisions by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which is expected to choose a casino for Greater Boston later this summer. The commission has not indicated that it will delay awarding the license until after the November vote, as requested by Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh last Thursday.
“Obviously I’m disappointed with the decision [by the Supreme Judicial Court],” said Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo, who helped negotiate a contract with Mohegan Sun that would bring the city more than $100 million over the first four years if the proposed $1.3 billion casino is built on 42 acres at Suffolk Downs. Mohegan Sun also has pledged to spend at least $45 million on roadway improvements in the area.
Rizzo, whose city voted twice to allow casino gambling, hopes voters across the state will understand the economic benefits of allowing legalized gambling houses.
“I’m confident, when the time comes in November, that people will vote for jobs, they’ll vote for revenues,” he said.
Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria Jr., whose city also stands to gain more than $100 million over the first four years if Wynn Resorts is granted a casino license on the Mystic River, said people would still leave the state for casinos in Rhode Island and Connecticut if the law were to be overturned.
“It’s a jobs bill,” DeMaria said, referring to the Wynn casino proposal, which calls for a $1 billion casino/resort in Everett, with about 550 rooms on a 30-acre property formerly owned by Monsanto. Wynn also plans to spend $50 million in transportation infrastructure improvements.
While voters in each city overwhelmingly approved earlier referendums to allow casinos, small pockets of opposition emerged during the process in Everett and Revere, with some joining Repeal the Casino Deal, a statewide group that lobbied to allow voters to have a final say on gambling in the November election.
For more than a year, Everett’s Evmorphia Stratis has warned friends and neighbors that a casino would bring problems to her hometown. In the coming months, she plans to work with the anticasino group to try to repeal the gambling law.
“Any casino has a direct impact on the surrounding communities along with the host city: traffic and human trafficking, increased criminal activity in the community, gambling addictions, and more,” she said. “Our government should not be in bed with the predatory industry of gaming that profits from methodically taking money from any person. Let gambling stay in Vegas, where it started and belongs.”
In Revere, Joe Catricala was elated after hearing that voters will have a chance to overturn the gambling law. “For me it’s a quality of life issue. It will increase traffic, it will increase crime; it will create addictions,” said Catricala, who helped form the anticasino group Don’t Gamble on Revere.
But Mitchell Etess, Mohegan Sun chief executive officer, said he would work to persuade voters to keep the existing law.
“We’re in this for the long haul,” he said. “We’re a part of a campaign that will be fighting to vote down that referendum to make sure that gaming in Massachusetts and all of the jobs and development that are associated with it take place. We’re very supportive of this project.”
Wynn Resorts president Matt Maddox declined to comment on the court’s decision or the November referendum.
Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn, who has proposed the Everett casino, did not attend the local hearings last week.
Etess, along with 400 others, attended the hearing in Revere on Tuesday. About 50 people stood at the entrance of Revere High School and held blue-and-white signs with the Mohegan Sun emblem that read, “Better for Massachusetts.” The demonstrators included painters, carpenters, plumbers, and electricians from Boston-area unions.
Revere’s Daralyn Reardon, a bartender who has worked at Suffolk Downs for 23 years, held a Mohegan Sun sign and said she accepted the idea of a public vote. “Everybody has a right to vote and this will make a final resolution. This way nobody can come back at us another time and say that there wasn’t a vote. It’s just the way it has to be,” said Reardon.
At the Revere hearing, Etess described Wynn’s proposed casino as “a cookie-cutter design . . . a building better suited for Las Vegas.”
Renderings released by Mohegan Sun last week show sleek glass-fronted buildings that would be part of a complex that would house two hotels, restaurants, and a facility that would connect to the Suffolk Downs racetrack and be just a short walk away from the existing Blue Line stop.
At Wednesday’s hearing in Everett, Robert DeSalvio, a Wynn vice president, derided Etess’s critique of the Everett plan. “Any reference to our design as cookie-cutter couldn’t be further from the truth,” said DeSalvio, who added that Wynn, the casino’s owner, had “invented the ‘wow factor.’ ”
About 300 people attended the Everett hearing, which was held at the Edward G. Connolly Center. Many wore blue shirts that read “Wynn for Massachusetts” and black hats with the Wynn casino logo. The shirts and hats were distributed by Everett United, a pro-casino group in the city.
Sandy Juliano, who leads Everett United, said she plans to continue trying to persuade people that casinos would help bring jobs and additional benefits to cities like Everett. She believes the court’s decision goes against the people’s wishes.
“People have a lot at stake here, and to put it back on the ballot is unfortunate. It was passed. They should have left it alone,” she said.
As the lead-up to the high-stakes referendum begins, some elected officials — such as Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone — are speaking against legalized gambling. Last week, Curtatone told the Globe the casino law is flawed, and called it a “bad hand from the very beginning.”
Others, such as Medford Mayor Michael J. McGlynn, said they would remain neutral for now. McGlynn has agreements in place with both Wynn and Mohegan Sun that would provide the city $1 million and $600,000, respectively, if either receives a license.
“I really haven’t taken a position on it, but I would say if there were no casino the life of the residents in Medford would be a lot easier, because we’re going to be impacted dramatically by traffic,” said McGlynn.
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