Mohegan Chances at Boston-area Casino Improve as Mass. Gambling Commission Takes Strange Turn

When the Massachusetts state legislature passed a law paving the way for casino gambling resorts in the state, strict rules were put in place. While no one expected the process to be particularly smooth, few could have expected the twists and turns that have occurred even just this week.

As Connecticut watches closely as to what impact casinos in the Bay State would have on its own gaming, a proposal by Mohegan Sun for a Boston-area resort seems to be moving forward. Meanwhile, the head of the Massachusetts gambling commission removed himself from a vote on a plan competing with Mohegan for the only greater Boston license because of a previous business relationship with the owner of the land.

Connecticut’s gaming compact with the Indian tribes operating Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos in the state gives exclusive gambling rights to the tribes in exchange for 25 percent of the revenue from slot machines there. The state gets nothing from casinos the tribes might operate in other states. The casinos—and therefore the state—would lose revenue to Massachusetts gambling resorts.

Just how casinos in neighboring Massachusetts would impact the two Connecticut gambling resorts is in question. However, a report released in September of 2011 by the University of Massachusetts Amherst Center for Policy Analysis spells trouble for Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods.

Earlier this week, the Massachusetts gambling commission seemed to signal the Mohegan proposal for the Suffolk Downs dog racing track in the Boston suburb of Revere could go forward. That would cause major controversy because the original plan for the property that straddled Revere and neighboring East Boston was soundly rejected by the resident of the latter town in a referendum. The state gambling law gives absolute veto power to the towns in which the casinos are proposed. Revere residents approved the plan overwhelmingly.

The commission indicated Tuesday a revamped plan located solely in Revere could move forward. However, the new plan is so different from the one Revere residents approved, it’s barely recognizable. There is no time for a new vote under the timelines established by law.

To complicate things, commission chairman Steven Crosby, widely respected in Massachusetts, announced he will sit out the vote on a competing proposal in the town of Everett, also near Revere and East Boston. (The Scully Communications home office is located in Melrose, just north of Revere, Everett and East Boston.) Crosby has a previous relationship with an owner of the Everett land which Los Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn wants to develop. Crosby’s buddy would make millions from a Wynn purchase.

Any delay in the development of casinos in Massachusetts would be good news for the Connecticut tribes and by the extension, the state. Revenues have lagged in recent years and new, billion-dollar developments in neighboring Massachusetts won’t help.