Wynn Tests Casino Waters in Everett : Potential Outcome Could Affect Winthrop’s ‘surrounding Community’ Status
It takes three strikes before one is out, and so far casino development magnate Steve Wynn has only one strike against him in Massachusetts.
Now it appears that – after whiffing in Foxboro with Patriots owner Bob Kraft – Wynn will take his second swing at developing a Greater Boston area casino in Everett.
The Independent Newspaper Group was the first to confirm on Monday with City of Everett officials that Wynn would visit Everett to discuss developing a casino on a large tract of land west of Rt. 99 – a spot also being looked at by other casino developers and that had been viewed already by an employee of the Wynn Group.
Wynn toured that site with Everett Mayor Carol DeMaria Wednesday and held a press conference to talk about the potential development of a casino/hotel project in the city.
Wynn said that he considers himself more of being in the hotel business than in the casino business. He said that his hotels are “destinations” and always rise to the status of being the best in its market.
“The Wynn Group is taking a look at the site,” said David Rodrigues, acting chief of staff for Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria.
Rodrigues indicated that several developers are interested in the site – which is known officially as the old Monsanto Site.
“We’ve had some interest with developers at the site for a variety of proposals, including several casino developers,” he said. “We’re having ongoing discussions with casino developers about siting in Everett. They’ve focused almost exclusively on the Old Monsanto site and I don’t know of any other site in Everett they are discussing.
“We’re thrilled people are finally starting to see Everett for the great opportunity it truly is,” he continued. “We’re looking forward to hearing proposals from all casino developers and from Mr. Wynn.”
The news sent ripples through the Massachusetts expanded gaming world – a world in which Suffolk Downs was the only publicly known applicant and which has appeared to have a lock on the one Greater Boston casino license for months.
It also potentially alters the lucrative host community status for the Greater Boston area casino – pushing both Boston and Revere aside in favor of Everett if Wynn were successful. Winthrop and Chelsea have been designated as “surrounding communities” for a potential casino/resort at Suffolk Downs.
Winthrop Town Council President Peter Gill appointed a council casino committee consisting of Councilor-at-Large Larry Powers as chairman and Councilors Russell Sanford and Craig Mael as members.
Powers and the Council casino committee, has been closely monitoring the developments on the casino issue in the nearby city of Everett.
“I would say that if Mr. Wynn wants to build a casino in Everett that it would certainly be in a competition with Suffolk Downs and I would guess that competition is always a good thing,” said Powers. “Maybe I’m being a little wishful but if there is a competition, maybe Suffolk Downs would sharpen their pencil a little bit when it comes to negotiations with Winthrop. It might be in Winthrop’s best interests that Suffolk Downs has some competition [for a casino license].”
With a giant like Wynn entering the game in Greater Boston, things have changed dramatically.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) confirmed that any casino developer would have to have their Phase I application submitted by Jan. 15, 2013 along with the non-refundable $400,000 application fee.
“The Commission has the authority extend the deadline, but at this point they’re focused on having the Jan. 15th deadline,” said MGC Spokesperson Elaine Driscoll. “At this point, they are encouraging everyone to be ready to go on that date…For regions A and B, we do encourage everyone who is interested to have the Phase I application in by the Jan. 15th deadline.”
Driscoll said Suffolk Downs has already paid the non-refundable $400,000 application fee, but the track has not yet submitted the official Phase I application – which the MGC released in late October.
No one, in fact, has turned in the official application, she said.
She also indicated that the Phase I process is a typical, industry standard evaluation of applicant finances and integrity. The Phase II process, however, is more involved and distinctly unique to the Massachusetts licensing process. The Phase II process has yet to be fully developed and meetings and hearings about that process are ongoing, with an important meeting happening on Dec. 10th.
By all indications, it appears that turning in the Phase I application by the deadline would not be a daunting task for someone already in the gaming industry.
Wynn, 70, is a major player elsewhere in the casino development world, and is the owner of the palatial Wynn Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. He also owns a casino in Macau, and formerly owned Las Vegas stalwarts like The Mirage, Treasure Island and The Bellagio.
He is estimated to have a net worth of $2.5 billion.
Last year, Wynn buddied up with Kraft to propose a mega-casino next to Gillette Stadium and Patriot Place. Wynn appeared at a 2011 football game in the owners box with Kraft and then mounted a major campaign in Foxboro to convince residents to approve a zoning change allowing a casino.
Wynn spent a great deal of money on an advertising campaign and direct mailings to every residence in Foxboro. There was even quite a political fight between elected officials in the Town. However, in the end, the proposal was squashed and Wynn pulled out.
Now, it appears he is back in Boston for a second try.
Officials at Suffolk Downs said no matter who decides to enter the fray, they believe they have a very attractive proposal.
“We are steadfast in our commitment to develop a world-class destination resort that will set the standard for gaming development in Massachusetts by maximizing the economic benefits for the area, including thousands of jobs, local business partnerships, enhanced tourism and infrastructure improvements,” read a statement from Suffolk Downs COO Chip Tuttle. “As we work to earn a license on these merits, we have the advantages of a superior site in one of the most-visited cities in the world, proximity to New England’s largest airport, best-in-class partners, strong community support, and a 77-year track record as the state’s premier gaming destination.”
House Speaker Bob DeLeo (D-Winthrop) – who has Suffolk Downs in his district and has supported the track’s bid for a license – preferred not comment on Wynn’s second entrance.
State Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstein (D-Revere) said she believed Suffolk had the better location and the better bid than anything that would materialize in Everett.
“Anyone’s entitled to bid, but I just think the location anywhere else can’t beat the Suffolk Downs location,” she said. “I really do think the Suffolk Downs area is a better choice. It’s proximity to Boston, the airport and the better routes of transportation make it better. As it is, Rt. 99 in Everett has lots of traffic. If you went there now, there will be tons of traffic.”
Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo said he was confident in the Suffolk Downs proposal and said Wynn’s flirtations with Everett don’t change how Revere will proceed.
“We’re still working diligently to bring a resort-style casino to Suffolk Downs,” he said on Tuesday. “We’re confident Suffolk Downs will propose a project to the Gaming Commission that is going to be successful and legitimate and will ultimately lead to the granting of one of the three gaming licenses.
“But, competition is healthy,” he continued. “Now more than ever it is incumbent on Suffolk Downs to make sure their proposal is one that meets the expectations of the Gaming Commission and is positive for Massachusetts. I know they know this. I just think they have the resources and they’re so committed and they know the stakes are high.”
Chelsea City Manager Jay Ash said he didn’t anticipate any changes for his community, noting that Chelsea has surrounding community status for Suffolk Downs and would most likely have the same status for anything developed in Everett.
“I believe we would still be a surrounding community,” he said. “The casino would have to agree that we are a surrounding community, or we could petition the State Gaming Commission to be recognized as one.”
However, in Winthrop, much more is at stake because having a casino in Everett would completely remove that Town’s status as a surrounding community as Winthrop shares no geographic connection with Everett.
Rodrigues said talk with casino developers is a recent undertaking, but one that has Everett leaders listening intently.
“This something that happened quickly for us, but we’re ready to take a careful look at any plan and make sure it’s the best thing for the City as a whole,” he said. “Everett is unique in its mix of residential and industrial uses. This is one site that is the furthest away from any residents or residential neighborhoods. That said, we’re very sensitive to the impact of any development on that neighborhood down The Line.”
According to Rodrigues, the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail (MBCR) currently owns the property on Horizon Way. Property records from the City of Everett also indicate that the DeNunzio Group of Cambridge – which developed Atlantis Marina recently in Winthrop – owns 30 acres of land in that same area.
They bought it for $8 million in 2009 from John Pastore of Modern Continental Construction Company.