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Editorial

Charlie Baker’s chance to shape the Gaming Commission

The former Wynn Resorts casino site in Everett, Mass., pictured on April 26, 2018.
The former Wynn Resorts casino site in Everett, Mass., pictured on April 26, 2018.Charles Krupa/ASSOCIATED PRESS/FILE

Should the state cancel the Wynn Resorts license for its giant casino under construction in Everett? Reopen the contentious application process in the southeastern part of the state?

Big decisions loom on the horizon for the state Gaming Commission — choices that will have far-reaching impact on thousands of jobs and millions in state tax revenues. This isn’t the time to be short-staffed.

The five-member commission is one down, though, after longtime chairman Steve Crosby unexpectedly resigned on Wednesday afternoon. His term wasn’t due to end until March. Commissioners picked one of the four remaining members, Gayle Cameron, to serve as interim chair, pending a formal designation from Governor Charlie Baker, but that still leaves the panel with an even number of commissioners, raising the unwelcome possibility of deadlocked votes on sensitive matters.

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Baker has generally kept a skeptical distance from casinos, which were authorized by his predecessor, Deval Patrick. The administration was caught off guard by Crosby’s departure, and it’s understandable they don’t have a replacement lined up right away. But making an appointment to fill out Crosby’s term should be a high priority now. Baker might be tempted to wait until after the election, but he shouldn’t.

The most obvious looming item on the commission’s agenda is how to respond to its investigation into Wynn Resorts and its handling of sexual misconduct allegations against its now-former chief executive, Steve Wynn. The commission’s investigators are looking into whether the company handled the allegations properly, and whether its actions (or inactions) raise any doubts about the company’s suitability to operate a casino in Massachusetts.

That controversy is also the reason Crosby stepped down: He made an ill-advised statement to the media this month that both Steve Wynn’s lawyer and lawyers for the spurned Greater Boston applicant, Mohegan Sun, seized on as evidence of intractable bias. Rather than fight back against incoming fire from all sides, he chose to step down.

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“I am resigning . . . in order to give you the best possible opportunity to do your work without distraction,” he said in a message to commission employees.

Especially since Crosby was almost out the door anyway, he made the right call. Both sides seem to be working the refs a bit, but there’s no reason to let doubts linger.

Commissioners also need to plot a strategy for the southeastern region, where casino plans by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe remain mired in uncertainty, and a commercial applicant wants a chance to submit a license application.

Crosby leaves with mixed reviews. He successfully got a slot parlor and a casino in Springfield off the ground and served ably as the public face of the Gaming Commission, but he weathered controversy over his ties to one of the landowners involved in the Everett casino transaction. There’s not much doubt that the build-out of a gambling industry in Massachusetts has gone slower than initially expected — and that’s often been a good thing, reflecting an appropriate level of caution. But especially as it confronts hard choices soon, the commission needs to be ready and able to act decisively.

Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this editorial inaccurately described the manner in which Gayle Cameron was elevated to interim chair of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. She was selected by the gaming commissioners, pending a formal designation from Governor Charlie Baker.

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