Gaming commission delivers blow to Brockton casino proposal
THE BILLIONAIRE CASINO developer who has been pushing for years to build a casino in Brockton suggested that he will drop his efforts after the Massachusetts Gaming Commission determined Thursday that it will not reconsider its 2016 denial of his Brockton casino bid.
Neil Bluhm, the chairman of Mass. Gaming and Entertainment, told the Gaming Commission that he has spent millions of dollars on studies and planning in hopes of building a casino at the Brockton Fairgrounds. But with a vote to deny his request to reconsider an earlier denial looming, Bluhm told the commission they would be effectively ending his interest in vying for a Massachusetts casino license.
“To vote that you are not going to reopen this under any circumstance, I don’t know how I can continue to hang in here on behalf of Brockton. I’ve spent millions of dollars,” Bluhm said. “To deny this request, I think you lose me. I can’t hang around. I’ve been doing this for more than five years.”
The Gaming Commission met Thursday to clear up a variety of issues associated with the still-unassigned casino license for the southeastern part of the state, known to the commission as Region C. More than a year ago, Bluhm’s Mass. Gaming and Entertainment requested that the commission “agree to reconsider MG&E’s application without reopening the [licensing] process more broadly.”
The commission on Thursday heard from its lawyers and lawyers for MG&E to determine whether the regulators have the authority to reconsider a previous licensing decision and then whether “there are sufficient grounds in this case, whether they exist to properly exercise that authority,” Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein said.
By a 3-1 vote, the commission ruled that it does have the power to reconsider its past licensing decisions but that there were not sufficient grounds to reopen MG&E’s specific proposal and reconsider the 2016 license denial.
Commissioners were concerned that by reopening the years-old MG&E proposal, the commission would be preventing other interested parties from applying for the license given some of the changes to the gaming and business landscape since the commission’s 2016 ruling. Commissioner Enrique Zuniga was the lone ‘no’ vote and he expressed an interest in gauging interest from other developers before deciding whether to consider MG&E’s proposal on its own.
Bluhm and his attorneys from Goodwin Proctor argued for the same.
“I don’t honestly know how long you expect us to be hanging around here for Brockton,” the Chicago casino magnate said. “I don’t see why you can’t vote that you have the authority to reconsider and then for a period of time see what interest there is for others to potentially bid on this. And then, if you have no interest, then you can go back and make your decision.”
The commission’s lawyers and those representing MG&E were in agreement that the commission has the authority to reconsider its decisions, but one commission lawyer warned the regulators against establishing a precedent in which rulings routinely change after they are made.
“The power to reconsider must be sparingly used if administrative decisions are to have resolving force on which persons can rely; meaning that, obviously, once a decision is made you don’t want to go around changing decisions people have come to rely upon unless there is a good reason,” deputy general counsel Todd Grossman said.
The mayor of Brockton, who attended Thursday’s meeting with Bluhm and others, told commissioners that his city often feels like it gets the short end of the stick when Massachusetts makes economic development decisions.
“We from the southeastern part of the state feel that Massachusetts ends around [Route] 128 and the rest of us are left with crumbs, we get crumbs, and we don’t have the ability to do much for ourselves because we often feel the state doesn’t do much to help us out,” Brockton Mayor Moises Rodrigues said. “Any time an opportunity shows up or presents itself, for some odd reason the upper part of the state gets it, the western part of the state gets it, Boston gets it, and we are left with absolutely nothing.”
He added, “there is a severe miscarriage of justice when it comes to providing the fourth largest community in Massachusetts with resources and opportunities, that’s all we’re asking for. I implore you, even though you’re sitting here saying you don’t want to reopen this because there probably could be some additional competition coming down the pipeline.”
Judd-Stein noted the commission’s vote Thursday does not preclude MG&E or any other developer from seeking the Region C license if or when the commission decides to embark upon a new bidding process for that license.
Of concern in Region C when the commission rejected the Brockton proposal from MG&E by a 4-1 vote was the possibility of the Brockton casino competing with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe’s planned $1 billion First Light Resort and Casino in Taunton, less than 20 miles from the site of the planned Brockton casino.
Since the commission denied the MG&E/Rush Street proposal, the decision to grant the tribe land in trust on which the tribe planned to construct the casino has been reversed and the future of the tribe’s plan remains in doubt.
“The situation that existed when this commission made its decision with that 800-pound elephant in the room has changed dramatically and that 800-pound elephant has shrunk to the point of disappearance,” David Apfel, one of MG&E’s lawyers from Goodwin Proctor, said.
In its ruling from 2016, the commission wrote that it determined MG&E’s application demonstrated that it had not “thought broadly and creatively about creating an innovative and unique gaming establishment that will create a synergy with, and provide a significant and lasting benefit to, the residents of the host community, the surrounding communities, the region and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and will deliver an overall experience that draws both residents and tourists to the gaming establishment and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”
At the time, then-Chairman Stephen Crosby said, “Bottom line, I end up feeling like this does not meet the standards that are required to make the decision. I think that I come down on the side that this does not warrant an award.”
Commissioner Bruce Stebbins said in 2016 he had “some concerns about the strength of this application” and said he didn’t “want to make an award of a license to an application that, in my estimation, is just not up to the level of excellence that I would expect.”