Encore’s ‘expansion’ starts to raise tricky questions

Wynn officials give conflicting statements on west of Broadway venture

WHO SHOULD we believe over at Wynn Resorts?

The question is starting to get interesting as the company is pitching a new complex across Broadway from the existing Encore Boston Harbor casino in Everett. The proposed project is big, with at least two hotels, a half-dozen restaurants and bars, retail stores, an event venue, and a massive 2,900-space parking garage — all connected to the casino on the other side of the street by a covered walkway bridge over Broadway. 

Wynn is doing everything it can to convince the Massachusetts Gaming Commission that its proposed new venture covering four blocks east of Broadway is separate and distinct from the casino across the street and should not be subject to the oversight of the commission. 

At first, controversy arose over the size of the event venue, which was slated to have 1,800 seats — a problematic number because casinos are barred from opening venues with 1,000 to 3,500 seats. The limitation was set long ago to prevent casinos from using their gambling proceeds to dominate the local entertainment market. Wynn sidestepped that hurdle by lowering the size of its venue to no more than 999 seats, one less than the lower limit. 

In a presentation to the commission on February 10, officials from Wynn went out of their way to make it sound as if the casino and the proposed complex across the street had almost nothing to do with each other. 

Chris Gordon, president of the development arm of Wynn Resorts, focused on how the bridge connecting the two properties would be open to the public, make it safer to cross Broadway, and improve traffic flow. He insisted it wasn’t a walkway allowing people to gain entrance directly into the casino, although it would appear to come close.  

Tony Starr, a Mintz Levin lawyer who works for Wynn, said the east of Broadway complex would be owned by a new limited liability corporation with no direct ties to the casino on the other side of the street. The idea, he said, was to have a Wynn affiliate build the new complex in phases and then lease the various elements out to other companies that would operate the hotels, restaurants, and entertainment venue. 

Starr said it was possible the parking garage could be retained by a Wynn affiliate, but he insisted the parking garage was there to serve the new complex and not the casino on the other side of the street. (That’s somewhat of a big deal because parking — and the notion of discouraging people from driving to the casino — was a key issue when Encore Boston Harbor was originally licensed.)

Jacqui Krum, the senior vice president and general counsel at Encore Boston Harbor, put a fine point on it. “We do not believe this garage will be used primarily by visitors to Encore Boston Harbor,” she said. 

Starr’s PowerPoint insisted the proposed complex will be an island separate and apart from Encore Boston Harbor. “The hotels, restaurants, events center, parking garage, and utilities do not enhance Encore’s gaming area by making the entire facility a more attractive destination,” he said.

On February 15, Craig Billings, the new CEO of Wynn Resorts, held a conference call with investment analysts to go over the company’s promising fourth quarter results. During his presentation, he made a number of comments that seemed to suggest the expansion east of Broadway had a lot to do with helping the casino west of Broadway.

Billings said Wynn had done a sale-leaseback arrangement with its Boston casino property to raise capital for a series of investments, including “additional parking and complimentary non-gaming amenities that will drive Encore Boston Harbor to even higher levels of performance.”

He also hailed the potential for growth at Encore Boston, and said the new parking garage across the street would help make that happen. “Parking, particularly on weekends, remains a constraint for us,” he said. 

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

At a Gaming Commission hearing on Monday to take public testimony, officials connected to the Chevalier Theatre in Medford drew attention to the inconsistencies coming from the Wynn camp and said the company couldn’t be trusted. The officials said Wynn officials are already breaking the rule on venue size by hosting “predatory” entertainment events (the B-52s and boxing nights) in the ballroom at Encore Boston Harbor. They warned that the casino could do the same across the street if it succeeded in escaping the oversight of the Gaming Commission.

Rep. Paul Donato of Medford didn’t mince words. “This is without a doubt part of the casino,” he said.