Kudos to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission for insisting that casino license applicants include a “wow factor.’’ Applicants have proffered many economic development initiatives to meet the requirement: jobs; infrastructure and road improvements; environmental remediation; historical preservation of an iconic racetrack; and riverfront transportation initiatives. But one “wow” that is curiously absent from the proposals is the inclusion of minority equity investors.
During the lengthy legislative process that produced the state’s gaming law, significant attention was paid to the inclusion of minorities in employment, vendor utilization, and charitable support. However, neither Governor Patrick nor the Legislature required diversity at the ownership level. Conversely, Maryland and Pennsylvania specifically encourage minority equity participation, and not surprisingly, minority equity investors have been enlisted to participate. Wow!
The purpose of encouraging minority participation at the equity level is not to make a few people of color rich. Rather, it is to give minorities a seat at the table, where key decisions regarding employment, vendors, contributions, negative-impact mitigation, and so on are made and implemented; and to have a group of people from the host community who can be approached and answerable to their neighborhoods for the conduct of the licensee’s operations.
Equity players from the minority community can help ensure that all of the winning applicant’s promises will be honored and fulfilled. Thus, the minority community will not be taken in like it was by the promise-them-anything-to-get-the-deal developers of the historically big and impactful projects like Copley Place, the Big Dig, or Logan Airport expansion. These projects failed the community dismally in fulfilling their promises as well as meeting community expectations. To ensure the public’s participation in economic development, the winning casino application should look more like the nationally vaunted development team for Parcel 18 in Roxbury, which had minority developers at its core and delivered innumerable benefits to the minority community.
There are many men and women from the area’s black, Latino, and Asian communities who would relish the opportunity to participate. And when, in its final evaluations, the commission weighs the relative merits of each proposal, and the respective “wow factors” come into play, having community-based minority partners at the equity, seat-at-the-table level may be just the distinguishing factor that tips the decision in one’s favor.
Fletcher “Flash’’ Wiley, a Boston attorney and businessman, was the first African-American chairman of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.