Voice opposition to Everett proposal
By Elizabeth Sheeran
When it comes to plans for a resort casino on the Mystic River, Somerville’s elected officials say the city’s being dealt a bad hand.
Everett voters recently approved a proposal by Las Vegas-based Wynn Resorts to build a 550-room, 19-story resort casino complex on the riverfront just across the Mystic from Somerville’s Assembly Row development. The plan still has to face off against two competing bids for the one available resort casino license in this part of the state. But the June 22 referendum victory in Everett increases the odds in Wynn’s favor.
“There will be impacts on this community if a huge Las Vegas-style casino comes right next door, to Everett,” said Ward Six Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz at last week’s meeting of the Board of Alderman, which formally requested updates from the administration on the potential impacts of a casino on Somerville’s doorstep, as well as efforts to mitigate those impacts or oppose it outright.
Gewirtz was among a majority of the board who voiced strong opposition to the Everett casino proposal, seeing nothing but negative impacts for Somerville. Members said the project would create traffic headaches, and several spoke of the problem of gambling addiction. But the greatest concern was around the economic impact.
“There is startling evidence about how damaging casinos are to local businesses,” said Gewirtz. She said resort casinos are designed as self-contained complexes with their own restaurants and retail outlets which keep spending inside the resort and away from surrounding businesses.
“These casinos have become shopping mega-malls,” said Ward Four Alderman Tony Lafuente. He said competitive retail outlets are part of casino developer Steve Wynn’s business model. “The Wynn Casino in Las Vegas has a Ferrari dealership. He sells more Ferraris out of his casino than any other Ferrari dealership in the country. I would bet he’s going to compete directly with what we’re going to do in Assembly Square.”
Several aldermen said a casino just a few hundred yards from the Assembly Row waterfront would hurt plans to develop the area with a mix of retail and residences. “It’s going to be staring them in the face,” said Ward Seven Alderman Robert Trane. “We’re talking about high-end nice condos down at Assembly Square. Do you want to be sitting there looking out at the bright lights of this casino directly across the river?”
Trane said it was understandable Everett voters approved the plan because it takes a blighted, polluted former chemical plant location and turns it into tax-generating property for them. He said Everett had little to lose because their side of the river wasn’t otherwise being actively developed. “But we’re the ones that are going to see the negative impact because we did good planning, we thought ahead,” said Trane.
Board members were unhappy that Somerville has to date had little input into what is being proposed in Everett. “It amazes me how one city can decide the fate of an entire region. It’s going to negatively impact everyone, not just Everett. I think it’s an outrage,” said Alderman-At-Large Dennis Sullivan. The board talked of working with Medford and other neighbors to press the concerns of surrounding communities.
According to Elaine Driscoll of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which will decide where to award the resort casino license on behalf of the state, the application requires an agreement and positive referendum with the host community, and Wynn’s Everett proposal is the only one in the region that has completed that requirement so far. But the successful applicant is also supposed to work out so-called “mitigation agreements” with all communities surrounding the casino location.
Final applications are due to the Gaming Commission by December 31, then applicants have another 30 days to negotiate signed agreements with surrounding communities. If no such agreement is reached, the matter will go to arbitration before the five-member commission. “Ultimately, the Gaming Commission will make a decision on what the agreement will be, if the surrounding communities and the applicants are unable to agree,” said Driscoll.
She said the Gaming Commission ombudsmen and other state resources, such as regional planning authorities, are available to assist both communities and applicants in working out the terms of mitigation agreements. But the intent is for communities to work things out directly with the casino developers.
Mayor Joseph Curtatone, who has been an outspoken opponent of the Everett casino, said Wynn Resorts representatives had recently met with him to discuss their plans. He said the meeting was courteous and professional, and Wynn shared some data from traffic and environmental studies. But they did not begin talks about any kind of potential mitigation agreement. Nor did the meeting change the mayor’s stance on the project.
“I reiterated my position in opposition to casinos in general and this one in particular,” said Mayor Curtatone. “I have no intention of backing down from that and they understand that.”
The Mayor said he plans to meet with the Board of Aldermen soon to brief them on the meeting with Wynn, and to discuss possible next steps. “We have a responsibility to the community to exercise our full rights under the law, with respect to either mitigation or opposition,” said the mayor. “Casinos don’t build communities. They tear them down.”