Wynn has plan for traffic, but yachts could be problem

$1m ad blitz planned to discourage driving to casino

ENCORE BOSTON HARBOR, which won approval Wednesday to open for testing next week, is plunking down big bucks to try to avoid exacerbating the region’s notorious gridlock when it opens in less than two weeks, but the Everett casino only has limited control over how people get there.

For instance, the casino’s three water shuttles are low enough to slip beneath the Alford Street Bridge linking Everett to Boston, but the resort on the banks of the Mystic River will also attract sailboats and big motor yachts from Boston Harbor on the other side of the bridge. The regulations governing the drawbridge call for it to remain down during weekday rush hours, but at other times it should open whenever a boat needs to get by, according to the US Coast Guard. When the bridge is up, that stops traffic along the busy stretch of Route 99.

“The larger yachts obviously that have towers or electronics that go up high do require a bridge opening,” said Bob DeSalvio, Encore Boston Harbor’s president.

On opening day June 23, the Coast Guard and law enforcement will limit the openings of the drawbridge to scheduled times – 6 a.m., noon, 6 p.m., 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. – after which it will resume its usual operations.

Encore Boston Harbor plans to spend $1 million to encourage visitors to travel by MBTA, Encore-operated bus shuttles, or the casino’s water shuttles instead of driving to the resort, according to DeSalvio. “With so many easy ways to get to Encore, why drive?” is the theme of the casino’s media campaign.

“People will be seeing this all over the place,” DeSalvio said.

The Encore Boston president also acknowledged that in the wee hours, Uber and Lyft drivers will probably handle the bulk of traffic from those leaving the casino.

“For the very late night hours, you’ll see a vast majority will go with rideshare,” DeSalvio said.

Encore Boston Harbor President Robert DeSalvio spoke to reporters before the Massachusetts Gaming Commission gave the casino permission to open for testing ahead of its planned June 23 grand opening. (Photo by Andy Metzger)

The casino’s buses to and from New Hampshire, Millbury, and Rockland are tentatively scheduled to end for the day at 10 p.m., and the Encore boats will stop service just before midnight. Shuttles to nearby T stations, and a “neighborhood runner” bus serving Everett and Chelsea will run around the clock.

After fining parent company Wynn Resorts $35 million and imposing a $500,000 fine on its CEO for how the entity handled sexual assault allegations against company founder Steve Wynn, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission in May granted Encore a permit to serve complimentary drinks to gamblers until 4 a.m. On Wednesday, the commission voted 4-0 (Commissioner Gayle Cameron was not at the meeting) to give Encore a provisional OK to open for testing next week. Encore will open for test runs on June 17, 19, and 20 with profits being donated to charity.

John Ziemba, the commission’s ombudsman, told the commissioners that Wynn Resorts has met the commitments it made to win a Massachusetts casino license. “In many instances, it has exceeded them,” he said.

Commissioner Eileen O’Brien was delegated to issue a temporary conditional operation certificate that would allow Wynn to open June 23 before receiving approval from the full commission.

Wednesday’s hours-long meeting gave the state’s gaming regulators a chance to go over the casino plans in sometimes painstaking detail before Encore Boston throws open its doors at 10 a.m. Sunday, June 23.

Transportation has been a nagging concern since well before Wynn Resorts won approval to build a $2.6 billion hotel and gambling palace just north of Boston. James McHugh, a former member of the commission, voted against awarding the license to Wynn because of concerns about traffic in surrounding communities.

Since Wynn first won the license in 2014, the bus area of the Sullivan Square MBTA station just across the river from the casino site has been overhauled, and the nearby rotary has been revamped with new bike lanes, crosswalks, and sidewalks.

Susie McDaniel, the vice president of human resources for Encore Boston Harbor, said Wynn is offering employees MBTA passes at a discount of 50 percent, or up to $50 per month.

Encore customers will be encouraged to use MBTA parking facilities in Medford, Malden, and Revere where there are currently a surplus of spaces, and where shuttles can deliver people from garage to casino.

According to T spokesman Joe Pesaturo, roughly 400 of the 1,335 surface parking lot spaces at Wellington Station are vacant on a typical weekday, and there are typically 200 to 300 MBTA spaces available at the nearby Station Landing.

While Encore is encouraging other means of travel, the casino will offer nearly 3,000 parking spaces on site with another 700 across the street, and at another lot elsewhere in Everett. The casino will have two Blue Bike stations and bike racks in a garage that can accommodate 192 bicycles, plus more bike parking for employees.

Construction of the retail spaces and landscaping is still ongoing, according to Joseph Delaney, the commission’s construction project oversight manager. It is possible that Encore may need to open under a temporary certificate of occupancy, but that is typical for a project of its size, according to Delaney.

The resort will feature 15 restaurants, 200,000 square feet of gaming area with slots and table games, and 671 hotel rooms, including a two-story residence that is 5,500 square feet.

When lawmakers passed the 2011 casino law, the state was just emerging from the Great Recession, but the unemployment rate has plummeted in the intervening years.

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.

Of the nearly 5,000 people hired to run the casino resort, about 44 percent are women, which is less than the casino’s hiring goal; about 51 percent are minorities, which exceeds the goal; and 3 percent are veterans, which meets the goal.

According to DeSalvio, a little less than half of the workforce will be unionized, and the casino’s HR chief said a little more than 20 percent of the staff is part-time.