Good, better, best, and “wow” on casinos

If casino developers don’t “wow” the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, they might as well pack up and go home.

The commission released its mammoth 236-page Phase 2 application Tuesday.  Developers will be ranked on a “good, better, best” system in four categories: building and site design, economic development, finances, and mitigation. But everything hinges on the “fifth” category, “the wow factor,” according to commission head Stephen Crosby.

The elusive “wow factor” isn’t a specific category. A developer must describe how the facility outpaces the competition in bringing in out-of-state customers or promoting diversity in hiring or utilizing environmentally sound building practices, according to Crosby.

“The wow factor is … what is your real differentiator?” Crosby told The Republican. “What makes this special? How is this different from other ones?”

Each commissioner will assess how developers stack up in a particular category. Crosby will make the “wow” determination.  Enrique Zuniga studies finances, mitigation falls to Gayle Cameron, and James McHugh gets tasked with site and building design.

Bruce Stebbins, a former Springfield city councilor and city business development administrator, drew the straw on economic development. There has been little public discussion of how Stebbins would maintain his objectivity in evaluating western Massachusetts license applicants given that he worked for a potential host community.

How will Stebbins determine what is the best jobs package for the host community and the region, for example? The proposals all promise job creation roughly in the range of 3,000 new positions.  The application asks applicants to demonstrate experience in hiring the unemployed and providing them with job opportunities.  Springfield, largest city in the region, has a nearly 10 percent unemployment rate: Does the edge go to MGM Resorts International, the Springfield applicant?

Last year, the state ethics commission ruled that Stebbins could vote on issues involving Springfield. If there is a plan to handle the circumstances under which he might recuse himself, it has not been made public.

Supporters of the West Springfield and Palmer casinos proposals would be interested to know what those parameters are, especially now that Stebbins’s current commission assignment dovetails with his previous role with Springfield.

“I do think it makes it a little difficult once you’re from a potential host community, and there may be issues down the line in terms of whether or not he’ll be able to vote on [an] issue,” Paul Burns, a Palmer town council member, told WGGB Springfield last year.

Meanwhile, back in the City of Homes, MGM is pulling out all the stops to assure a “yes” vote on the July 16 referendum in Springfield with a variety of tactics, including “massive rallies,” door-to-door campaigning, and refusing to debate the merits of its proposal with casino opponents.

Mayor Domenic Sarno is so confident that MGM will prevail that he has proposed balancing the  city’s fiscal 2014 budget with anticipation of $5 million in payments he expects from the Las Vegas gambling behemoth. Sarno seems to be rolling the dice himself, as the gaming commission will not announce the winner of the western Massachusetts license until next March or April.

Wow.

                                                                                                                                                                                    –GABRIELLE GURLEY

BEACON HILL

Senate Democratic leaders unveil a plan to overhaul the state’s welfare system, the Salem News reports. The state director of the embattled Department of Transitional Assistance outlined to legislators yesterday the steps the department is taking to combat fraud and abuse.

Public health and local officials testified on Beacon Hill that mosquito-borne illnesses could be reduced and lives saved if lawmakers pass a bill allowing cities and towns to use pesticide pellets in storm drains where larvae grow.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Lawrence’s reconstituted Licensing Board, headed by Mayor William Lantigua’s ex-wife, votes to put a popular nightclub on six months probation after it ejected fire inspectors, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

A Cambridge developer proposes a land swap with the state in Beverly that would allow the state to build a connector with Route 128 and the developer to build a $20 million shopping plaza, the Salem News reports.

The proposed budget for Lynn includes $2.8 million in longevity pay for city workers, the Item reports.

Middleboro officials are planning to send the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe another bill for the annual $250,000 payment they say is owed under the agreement they signed for a proposed casino, bringing the total they say they are owed to $1 million.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

The US House passes legislation that would restrict abortions to the first 20 weeks after conception; the measure is largely symbolic because it is unlikely to go anywhere in the Democrat-controlled Senate, the Associated Press reports (via Telegram & Gazette).

The American Spectator has a rambling rant from Daniel Flynn wondering why the Tsarnaev brothers turned ingrate bombers after being beneficiaries of government largesse and suggesting living in Cambridge historically feeds the ingratitude of its citizens.

ELECTIONS

US Senate candidates Ed Markey and Gabriel Gomez go at it in their last debate, with disputes surfacing over whether Gomez urged Sen. John McCain to retire and his list of clients at Advent International, the Associated Press reports (via Eagle-Tribune). WBUR reports the two candidates broke little new ground. The Herald says Markey came out of the debate unscathed. A super PAC with ties to Mitt Romney campaign veterans plans to protest Markey for not paying income taxes in Maryland.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A downtown Boston “business improvement district” designed to upgrade the area will get an infusion of more than $1 million after the Legislature moved to make mandatory what had until now been voluntary payments into the improvement fund from area businesses. CommonWealth reported last summer on the legislation.

CommonWealth’s Paul McMorrow spotlights the ongoing class warfare in Jamaica Plain over housing development in his weekly Globe column.

State officials are considering opening up the Holyoke high performance computing center to small manufacturers.

Harvard professor Niall Ferguson decries state bureaucracies in a Wall Street Journal op-ed column.

Wal-Mart chases Amazon’s online shopping empire.

CHARITY       

Despite a boom in the growth of nonprofits, charitable giving remains stuck at a little more than 2 percent of the national GDP for the past four decades, according to a new study.

EDUCATION

A new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality says the nation’s teacher training system is broken, turning out rookie teachers who are unprepared and likely to be overwhelmed, Reuters reports.

The Taunton School Committee is considering allowing high school students to use cell phones during school hours, which is currently banned.

HEALTH CARE

The state’s medical marijuana rules are taking shape: No neon signs, no candy-like forms, etc., WBUR reports.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A Danish company that has backed a number of offshore wind farms in Europe has pledged to invest $200 million in Cape Wind if the project secures the rest of its financing by the end of the year. CommonWealth reports that Cape Wind is taking on a Danish flavor overall. Meanwhile, Cape Wind has filed federal permits listing Quonset Point in Rhode Island as the staging area for the project even as redevelopment of the South Terminal in New Bedford is underway partly based on the promise it would be the staging port.

Mashpee Wampanoag officials released an environmental impact report they submitted to the state examining the effects of the tribe’s proposed casino in Taunton.

SCIENCE

A Harvard researcher is one of eight astronaut trainees — and one of four women — selected from among 6,000 applicants to the NASA program.  

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Admitted serial murderer John Martorano gets grilled by defense lawyers for accused serial murderer Whitey Bulger. Peter Gelzinis calls Martorano a monster, but Howie Carr is much gentler on his publishing business partner. The New York Times plays with the idea of honor among thieves and murderers.

There are more African-American men on probation, parole, or in prison today than were slaves in 1850, Newsweek reports.

A gun used in a 2006 shooting death in Brockton has been traced to a former Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent from Vermont.

Homicide investigators search the home of Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez after a body turned up in a North Attleboro industrial park. The Sun Chronicle talks to Hernandez’s neighbors.

MEDIA

The Globe reports on eight potential buyers of…the Globe.

Meet the Author

Gabrielle Gurley

Senior Associate Editor, CommonWealth

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

Michael Hastings, whose reporting brought down General Stanley McChrystal, dies in a car crash in Los Angeles, Rolling Stone reports.

A new Gallup poll shows confidence in newspapers and television continues to ebb, with just 23 percent of Americans saying they trust the traditional media sources with those identifying themselves as conservative or Republican being the most skeptical.