After nearly eight years of false starts and high-stakes votes, a host of lawsuits and abundant drama, Greater Boston seems finally on the verge of getting its first Las Vegas-style casino.
With its gambling license secure, Wynn Resorts now has about seven weeks to prepare Encore Boston Harbor, the company’s $2.6 billion resort on the Mystic River in Everett, for its scheduled June 23 opening.
Pencil in the date, but maybe don’t use ink just yet. Construction should be done with time to spare, but a workforce of more than 5,000 must be fully hired and trained and the company and state officials have a mountain of regulatory requirements to complete before the doors can open.
On Tuesday, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission affirmed that Wynn Resorts is fit to run a casino in Massachusetts, after 15 months of investigation and deliberation over how the company handled sexual misconduct accusations against its founder and former CEO, Steve Wynn.
Investigators found that some former executives covered up allegations against Wynn, now 77. He has denied assaulting any women.
State regulators also concluded that all of the company’s current top officials are suitable to hold their positions, including CEO Matt Maddox, who faced tough questioning from commission members at a three-day hearing in April.
While commissioners said they were profoundly disturbed by “repeated systemic failures and pervasive culture of nondisclosure” at the company, they acknowledged that changes at Wynn Resorts over the past year “show a new found commitment and focus on all levels of employees, which, combined with the ongoing successful business operations, continue to demonstrate that Wynn [Resorts] is likely to be a successful operator in Everett.”
The commission fined the company $35 million and Maddox $500,000. The company has not decided whether it will appeal to Superior Court. “We are in the process of reviewing the decision and considering the full range of our next steps,” Wynn Resorts said in a statement.
Attorney General Maura Healey said the penalty was not steep enough. “While this was the Gaming Commission’s decision to make, I am disappointed that the penalties and conditions levied against Wynn were not stronger to hold this company accountable for hiding the truth from the public and the state.”
Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria said he is very pleased the company kept its casino license. Since arriving in Everett, Wynn Resorts has bought into the idea that the Lower Broadway area could be remade into a business and entertainment district, he said.
“It wasn’t about one resort, it was about a vision of an area that was to be redeveloped,” he said. “I’m glad Matt [Maddox] is still there because Matt shared that vision.”
The company has bought land around the casino site for future development, and is working with the city on a number of transportation proposals, including a pedestrian bridge over the Mystic River to the Assembly Orange line stop, as well as potential Silver Line and commuter rail stops, DeMaria said.
“They have kept every promise they have made so far,” he said.
The Everett resort is 96 percent done, according to Peter Campot, the project’s director of construction. About 800 construction workers are working on site — down from a peak of more than 1,800 — now mostly handling the finishing touches, such as the final carpet installation, stone and tile work, exterior planting and landscaping, and punch-list items.
It’s a big building, and the easiest way to understand it is by sections. The north end of the property, farthest from the Mystic River, is the back-of-house area that the guests never see, which includes the employee dining room and the machinery and service areas required to run a large hotel. About 200 to 300 Wynn Resorts employees are now actively working in this part of the building, said Robert DeSalvio, Encore’s president.
Moving south along the property is the casino floor. It is a massive space with a high ceiling, ringed by a balcony and mezzanine level and lit by clusters of red glass chandeliers.
Nearly all of the planned 3,100 slot machines have been installed, DeSalvio said.
The gambling floor is broken up by two large extensions from the mezzanine level – one will be used for high-limit table games and slot machines, the other as the casino’s poker room. A nightclub and a sports bar on the mezzanine will overlook the casino floor.
Next is the hotel lobby, where a tall glass wall faces the Mystic River and the Boston skyline. The company plans a large flower and tree garden for the center of the lobby. Two curved escalators connect to the lobby bar and another restaurant on the mezzanine.
In total, the resort will have 15 bars and restaurants, including a buffet.
The resort’s signature piece of art — a Jeff Koons sculpture of Popeye bought for $28 million in 2014 — is expected to arrive in early June. It has been displayed at Wynn Las Vegas. The company had originally planned for the sculpture to stand between the lobby escalators. Instead, it will be installed in a nearby hallway rotunda, where it will be more convenient for guests to photograph and pose with, DeSalvio said. The space between the escalators will be occupied by a glazed ceramic urn by the artist Viola Frey, the company said.
The resort’s meeting and convention space extends along the peninsula that juts from the casino site into the Mystic River, ending with the casino’s main ballroom.
The hotel has 671 rooms and suites, and prices are, shall we say, robust. The company’s website is showing room rates ranging from $645 for a “premier king” room, to $5,000 for a 3,350-square-foot “two bedroom residence.”
The eight-year road to a Boston-area resort casino has been a long, strange trip.
Massachusetts legalized casino gambling in 2011, creating one license for a slot parlor and one resort casino license in each of three regions — Western Mass, Greater Boston, and the southeast.
In the beginning, most casino developers stayed away from Greater Boston, assuming that Suffolk Downs, on the East Boston-Revere line, and its casino partner, Caesars Entertainment, had the eastern Massachusetts license locked up.
Wynn Resorts challenged that assumption, pitching a casino in Foxborough, only to retreat in the face of fierce community opposition. On its second try, Wynn Resorts tried Everett, where its proposed Mystic River resort at the site of a former chemical plant was endorsed by 86 percent of city voters at a 2013 referendum.
The contest for the license shaped up as a clash of Las Vegas titans — Wynn Resorts vs. Caesars. But that battle never materialized after state investigators raised red flags in Caesars’ background check and the company left the project. On the heels of that surprising news, Suffolk Downs lost its community referendum in East Boston. The project’s proponents then revised the plan to fit entirely on the Revere side of the racetrack’s property, and pressed on with a new partner, Mohegan Sun.
Wynn Resorts had its own issues. In 2013, questions were raised about whether a former felon had a secret stake in the land the company had chosen for its casino. The gaming commission allowed the project to move forward after Wynn Resorts lowered the purchase price for the land to the appraised market value to remove the benefit of selling to a wealthy casino company. Three of the former land owners were indicted but ultimately acquitted.
Wynn Resorts won the license in 2014.