Deal with Boston advances Everett casino plan
The vision of thousands of gamblers streaming into a gleaming new casino soaring over the banks of the Mystic River in Everett has never been closer to reality. You can almost hear the ringing of slot machines and the clattering of dice.
The momentous agreement reached this week between Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn instantly turned a $1.7 billion proposal into a near certainty that the doors will open at an opulent gambling palace, perhaps by the end of 2018.
But before the first card can be dealt at the blackjack table, Wynn Resorts and its backers must maneuver past a few remaining obstacles.
Prime among them is the ongoing lawsuit by the City of Somerville to block the casino.
“We believe a massive casino next door to the city of Somerville would greatly impact our quality of life and health,” Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone said on Thursday. “What Boston does has no bearing on what we do in Somerville.”
But Curtatone lost a key ally on Wednesday, when Walsh agreed to end Boston’s legal effort to block the casino in exchange for an additional $400,000 a year in payments from Wynn. That pledge includes dropping a lawsuit that, like the one filed by Somerville, challenges the casino on environmental grounds.
The City of Revere, which had backed a casino proposal that lost to Wynn, has yet to officially drop its legal effort to stop the Everett resort. Revere appealed a decision by a judge last month to throw out its suit, but that was before a new mayor, Brian Arrigo, took office on Jan. 4. Arrigo on Thursday declined to say what he would do.
And new legal challenges could always crop up.
“It’s not difficult to imagine other lawsuits being filed by nearby property owners over zoning issues,” said Paul DeBole, a professor at Lasell College who has studied gambling in New England.
On a more global level, Wynn’s fortunes in Everett are tied to his lucrative casino in Macau, China, where the economic and political winds are frequently shifting, said Richard McGowan, a Boston College professor and gambling specialist.
“The only thing that could blow Wynn out of the water in Everett at this point is a major downturn in his casino in Macau,” McGowan said “If that happens, Wynn might have trouble financing his casino in Everett.”
But McGowan also played down the likelihood of that happening, and he held out little chance that any remaining legal challenges would be successful.
“Wynn has huge momentum in his favor, and I basically don’t see anything that can stop him now,” McGowan said.
Wynn also faces the monumental challenge of building a 3 million-square-foot resort on top of a badly contaminated 33-acre plot, the former home of a Monsanto chemical plant. Work crews began ripping up the grass-covered site several months ago and have already removed lead, sulfur, and arsenic from the ground.
Work crews have also made more than 2,000 test borings into the ground without discovering more serious problems, a Wynn spokesman said. And the company has begun to recruit the 4,000 construction workers needed to build the 24-story curved-glass hotel and sprawling casino.
Walsh had always explained his legal challenge as an effort to protect the residents of Charlestown, the Boston neighborhood that would bear the brunt of increased traffic to the Everett casino. The deal Walsh made with Wynn delivers $25 million to fix chronically congested Sullivan Square, as well as $2 million annually for youth groups and arts programs in the neighborhood.
In Charlestown on Thursday, residents expressed excitement about the new entertainment and employment opportunities promised by Wynn Resorts, as well as lingering concerns about traffic, especially around Sullivan Square. But those interviewed hesitated to fault Walsh, saying that the mayor and the city had relatively little leverage.
Puffing on a cigar in front of the post office, Bill Peltier said he thought an extra $400,000 a year amounted to a paltry sum for a billionaire like Wynn, and he was skeptical that fixing Sullivan Square would absorb all the new traffic.
“That’s not going to fix the problem,” said Peltier, 50, sporting a scally cap with a shamrock and the word “Townie” embroidered on the back. He conceded that he might visit the casino to eat in the restaurants, but he was dismayed that the resort would lack flyover ramps to carry cars to and from Interstate 93 while bypassing Charlestown’s cramped streets.
“That’s what they should do,” Peltier said, while expressing support for Walsh, casino deal or otherwise. “I approve of everything he’s doing. So we’ll see. The proof’s in the pudding.”
At the Edwards Playground, lifelong Charlestown resident Joe Lawler said he was excited to hear the city had dropped its opposition. “I work for Boston Sand [and Gravel], so it’s good for me. I’ll get guaranteed work,” the 37-year-old said, while walking his daughter’s Yorkshire terrier, Addie Mae. “I mean, the traffic, that will be a nightmare, but it already is.”
Lindsay LaRocca, who co-owns the dog-walking service WAGS Charlestown, agreed with Lawler. “I’m excited about it, but I worry about traffic,” said LaRocca, 32, who commutes from Peabody.
But Geoffrey Harrison, a Charlestown retiree walking through the Bunker Hill Mall, said he couldn’t wait for the casino to arrive. “I love that. You’ll see me there every day,” said Harrison, 71, a former construction worker who originally worked as a firefighter in his native Hong Kong. He said he likes to go to the Connecticut casinos and to Plainridge in Massachusetts for the entertainment and sense of energy, always setting himself a $100 limit and playing low-wager games.
“I love the noise. I love the environment,” said Harrison, asking when the Wynn casino would open. “Oh,” he said, learning of the late 2018 projected date. “Too slow!”