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Somerville sues over Wynn license

“We disagree. . . with this project, which will have a detrimental effect on the quality of life in Somerville,” said Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone (pictured).Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/File 2013/Globe Staff

Somerville has sued the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to block a casino development near its border, accusing the state panel of breaking the law and abusing its discretion in licensing the Wynn Resorts project in Everett.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Suffolk Superior Court, says the commission should have disqualified Wynn Resorts from the license process over allegations that a convicted felon, Charles Lightbody, had a stake in the Everett land where Wynn intends to build its $1.6 billion casino. The site is across the Mystic River from Somerville’s Assembly Square complex.

“We disagree with the expansion of gaming in general,” said Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, “and with this project, which will have a detrimental effect on the quality of life in Somerville.”

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The Gaming Commission, in response, said Somerville’s complaint is similar to allegations “made by others both in litigation and in other settings.”

“The commission continues to believe firmly that its approach to the land transaction was fully in keeping with its statutory and regulatory obligations and fully protected the public interest,” commission spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll said in a statement. “We look forward to a prompt resolution of the complaint.”

Curtatone was a vocal advocate for a Nov. 4 ballot question that would have repealed the state’s 2011 casino law and banned the gambling industry from the state. The repeal measure was overwhelmingly defeated by voters statewide.

The city’s lawsuit asks the court to declare that the commission broke state law in making the award to Wynn, and to vacate the board’s decision.

Wynn Resorts in September won the sole Greater Boston resort casino license, beating a competing project by Mohegan Sun at the Suffolk Downs racetrack in Revere. The commission’s choice of Wynn came after months of exhaustive review and analysis of both proposals.

Revere in October filed a lawsuit challenging the commission’s decision, stating that the panel had “acted arbitrarily and capriciously,’’ and “gave Wynn unequal (and better) treatment than other gaming applicants.’’ The Revere lawsuit also charges that commissioners violated the Open Meeting Law during their deliberations.

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The commission has denied Revere’s accusations.

Since Wynn won the license, three men connected to the Everett property were indicted for allegedly trying to hide that Lightbody had an undisclosed ownership stake in the land. The commission has known about Lightbody’s alleged involvement in the Everett property for more than a year. In December 2013, the commission approved a plan by Wynn to slash the price the company would pay for the land in order to deny any possible secret partners a premium price for the real estate. Investigators have said they found no evidence that Wynn officials knew about any hidden ownership.

Somerville’s suit says state law prohibits unsuitable people from being licensed as vendors for the casino industry.

“No felon may profit from a casino license,” Curtatone said.

The commission, however, has concluded that parties in a real estate transaction “are not gaming vendors or nongaming vendors and thus are not subject to the vendor licensing requirement,” according to an October analysis by the commission’s general counsel.

Curtatone’s administration has battled with Wynn Resorts in the past. The city and the casino developer were unable to negotiate a compensation agreement for the city, as a “surrounding community.” The dispute went to arbitration, under the commission’s regulations.

Wynn won the arbitration, and Somerville’s annual compensation package was set at about $650,000. The city had asked for more.

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A Wynn Resorts spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The proposed casino site in Everett.David L Ryan/Globe Staff/File 2012

Mark Arsenault can be reached at mark.arsenault@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bostonglobemark.