Walsh seeks delay on casino decision
Wants state panel to wait until after November elections
Mayor Martin J. Walsh appealed Thursday to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to delay a decision on a Greater Boston casino license until voters have their say on gambling in November.
Following a Supreme Judicial Court ruling this week that allowed a referendum on casino gambling, Walsh said that delaying a license decision would prevent needless expenditure of time, money, and effort when the future of casinos is uncertain.
If the gambling commission “chooses to go forward with granting a license and the voters choose to repeal the law, all parties involved will risk losing significant time and millions of dollars for nothing,’’ said Walsh, who notified the panel of his request in a letter.
The commission received Walsh’s letter, but had not an opportunity to review it, a spokeswoman said.
Elaine Driscoll, the gambling commission’s spokeswoman, said the panel has been steadfast in trying to meet deadlines, but has been accommodating of schedule adjustments when appropriate.
“At this time, as the commission has previously stated and shown, we retain the ability to deal with the contingencies of the licensing process in a manner that serves the best interest of the public,’’ Driscoll said.
The gambling panel is preparing to award the Greater Boston resort casino license to either a Mohegan Sun casino proposal in Revere, near East Boston, or a Wynn Resorts proposal in Everett, near Charlestown.
But prospects grew murky Tuesday with the Supreme Judicial Court ruling.
The high court’s unanimous decision singled out Attorney General Martha Coakley, saying she made a mistake last year when she ruled that the repeal measure was unconstitutional. Coakley had said the repeal would illegally take the implied contract rights of casino developers without compensation.
Rejecting that argument, the court concluded that “the Legislature and, through initiative, the voters of Massachusetts may choose to abolish casino and slot parlor gambling and parimutuel wagering on simulcast greyhound racing, and doing so would not constitute a taking of property without compensation,” the court said in a lengthy decision written by Justice Ralph D. Gants.
The ruling signaled the start of a contentious referendum campaign over one of the most charged issues in a generation and put at peril the future of the billion-dollar industry in Massachusetts.
Walsh, who lost his bid to make Boston a host community for a casino near its borders, said he has formally requested that the commission defer its decision, which is expected in early September.
“We are facing an unprecedented situation in Massachusetts right now, particularly given the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision earlier this week,’’ Walsh said. “From day one, I have constantly advocated to have the voices of the people of East Boston and Charlestown be heard. The residents in those communities deserve the right to vote, and the Supreme Judicial Court granted them that right.”
Walsh’s letter to the commission comes one day after gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker declared on WGBH Radio that the commission should wait until after the November vote to award additional casino licenses.
Baker reiterated his call for a casino license freeze Thursday, saying he shares Walsh’s view.
“As I said [Wednesday], while I will be voting against repeal, I don’t think the awarding of any additional licenses during this time of uncertainty makes sense,’’ Baker said in a statement. “I continue to believe that the best way forward for gaming in Massachusetts is to start with a single casino and go from there.”
Walsh’s pitch was also welcome news for John Ribeiro, who directs the citizens-led repeal effort. Ribeiro lauded Walsh for seeing the “wisdom in slowing the Gaming Commission’s rush to the slots table.”
“The economy is growing, cranes are up in every skyline in Massachusetts, jobs are coming back,’’ said Ribeiro, chairman of the Repeal the Casino Deal coalition. “The people of Massachusetts know we can do better, and the people should be heard before any decisions are made.”
But Walsh drew swift criticism from casino supporters, including executives at Suffolk Downs, a thoroughbred racetrack in East Boston and Revere and the site of the proposed Mohegan Sun casino.
“We have made a significant investment over the last several years to preserve jobs and to create opportunities for new ones while operating at a substantial deficit,’’ said Bill Mulrow, chairman of the board at Suffolk Downs. “Additional delays in the Gaming Commission’s licensing decision will put our operation and our workforce at risk, and we urge the commission to stick to its announced timeline.”
Wynn Resorts executives strenuously objected to altering the selection schedule.
“We have diligently adhered to the current timeline laid out by the Gaming Commission,” a statement from the company said. “Any changes to that timeline would be unfair and burdensome to the applicants, the host communities, and to taxpayers.”
Mayor Daniel Rizzo of Revere also voiced concern over Walsh’s new push.
“Voters in Revere have come out twice in support of jobs, economic development, and new sources of revenue,’’ he said.
“We have complied with all laws as set forth in the legislation and have adhered to all rules of the commission. A timeline has been announced and they should stick with it.”