EVERETT — Just weeks before a critical referendum on a Wynn Resorts casino plan, more than a dozen volunteers and precinct captains for the pro-Wynn group Everett United gathered Wednesday over eggrolls at their campaign headquarters, to review the progress of their extensive door-knocking campaign.
These volunteers, unlike those in most campaigns, do not have to beg supporters for money: Though Everett United has received a number of small donations from local businesses, the campaign is mostly financed by Wynn Resorts.
“We’re not asking for money,” the group assures visitors on its Web page. “We need your support.”
The binding referendum on approving the project is June 22.
In the critical campaign to win local support for his $1.2 billion casino resort, Las Vegas developer Steve Wynn has foregone a television or radio advertising blitz and put his faith and money into a street-level, door-to-door campaign, performed by unpaid volunteers under the guidance of professional political consultants he has hired.
“Wynn Resorts financially supports Everett United and its hundreds of volunteers committed to bringing our development to Everett,” said Wynn spokesman Michael Weaver. “They are a dedicated group, and we are grateful for their enthusiasm and support.”
To guide the effort, Wynn has hired Saint Consulting, a Hingham-based political specialist with expertise in winning controversial land-use campaigns, and ML Strategies, the high-powered Boston lobbying firm run by former Massport director Stephen Tocco.
Wynn Resorts did not disclose how much it has spent to support the campaign. The company will disclose campaign spending in a mandatory filing in mid-June, according to Wynn.
After being stymied by fierce opposition to a casino proposal in Foxborough last year, Wynn in Everett has carefully built a powerful campaign organization, in large part through networking. One of the first people Wynn hired when he decided to pursue a casino in Everett was John Tocco, son of Steve Tocco, to serve as the developer’s representative in the city.
Everett United volunteer Marlene Zizza, owner of Marji’s Florist on Main Street, has known the Tocco family for years. She said John Tocco reached out early in the campaign to introduce her to Owen Eagan, the Saint Consulting strategist who helped organize the group.
“I saw this [casino development] as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Zizza. “It’s clearly the biggest thing to ever happen to the city.”
Zizza recruited lifelong resident Vincent Ragucci, 70, who said his activism dates back to John F. Kennedy.
“I’ve been in more political campaigns in this city than Heinz has pickles,” Ragucci said. He said he has “called on every street and every house” in the territory assigned to him, and boldly predicted that 83.5 percent of his territory will vote yes, if they vote.
Well-financed and organized, Everett United volunteers include veterans of many Everett political campaigns, including Councilman Michael McLaughlin.
Other core members, such as Roger Thistle, found the group through the Internet. He said he has personally knocked on hundreds of doors. “I’m not very political,” he said. “I don’t gamble. I’m in this for the tax revenue and the jobs.”
The volunteers say they are confident of victory, but are pushing for an overwhelming vote to signal the city’s enthusiasm to the state gambling commission, which will choose the winning project.
The other contenders in Greater Boston are Suffolk Downs, in East Boston, and Foxwoods, in Milford.
The relentless Everett United campaign has overwhelmed opponents, who lack a sponsor.
“It’s pretty intense from the pro side, Everett United,” said Everett resident Evmorphia Stratis, an opponent who has tried to organize against the development without much luck. “There is so much money behind it, and who am I?”