Mohegan’s “all or nothing” challenge to Encore dismissed

Judge rules open meeting violations don’t warrant license revocation

RELATIVELY MINOR VIOLATIONS of the open meeting law by state gambling regulators shouldn’t invalidate Encore Boston Harbor’s casino license, a state judge wrote in dismissing a court challenge brought by a handful of Revere residents.

The three residents’ open meeting law challenge was part of a larger suit that Encore’s rival, Mohegan Sun, is pursuing against the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, hoping to undo the award of the only casino license available in Metro Boston.

According to the ruling by Suffolk Superior Court Judge Janet Sanders, the Gaming Commission has acknowledged that it at times violated the open meeting law as a fledgling agency. The violations concerned meetings that touched on commission business, but the transparency issues were corrected and there is no evidence that the meetings “involved substantive discussion” about what company should be awarded the metro Boston casino license, Sanders wrote in her July 12 decision.

In September 2014, the commission awarded the casino license to Wynn Resorts, which last month opened Encore Boston Harbor, its first East Coast casino on a once-polluted site on the Mystic River. Mohegan Sun, which runs a major casino in Connecticut, had made a bid for the metro Boston license after Caesars Entertainment dropped out of contention. Mohegan had hoped to redevelop the Suffolk Downs horse track into a resort casino. Once the casino license was awarded to Wynn, Mohegan and the city of Revere, where much of Suffolk Downs is located, tried to claw their way back into the lucrative market through litigation, but so far have failed.

Sanders said the “all or nothing” remedy sought by the plaintiffs in the case was too extreme. “This court concludes that, based on the record before me and viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs, ordering such a drastic remedy would be an abuse of discretion,” Sanders wrote.

Encore opened on June 23 and, in its first week of operation, visitors wagered $93.5 million, and the casino took in $16.7 million in gross gaming revenue.

In December 2015, Attorney General Maura Healey concluded a review for the Gaming Commission reporting that in general commissioners “gave careful attention” to the open meeting law, which requires deliberations for certain state agencies to occur in public, but said “certain aspects of the law proved particularly challenging for a startup agency where the Commissioners themselves conduct the fulltime work of the agency.”

Meet the Author

Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

The remainder of the lawsuit pursued by Mohegan is still pending. The suit, which deals with separate allegations of fairness in the licensing process, challenges the Gaming Commission’s award of a casino license to Wynn. On the more limited matter of public transparency in deliberations, Sanders indicated the stakes at play when contemplating taking the casino license away from Encore.

“Without a license, the casino might very well have to be shuttered,” Sanders wrote. “In short, the harm that would occur if this Court were to impose the remedy sought by the Plaintiffs would be extensive and, in certain respects, irreparable.”