Casino clash

The debate over casinos in Massachusetts clearly isn’t settled yet.

Sen. Jamie Eldridge of Acton says a recent change in state law allowing casinos to continue serving alcohol two hours longer is proof that “our worst fears about casinos are coming to fruition.” He says the new 4 a.m. “last call” is not only a danger to public safety and a threat to local bars and restaurants, but a sign of the growing political influence of corporate special interests on Beacon Hill.

Not surprisingly, the mayor of Everett, where the Wynn Boston Harbor casino is under construction, holds a very different view. Carlo DeMaria says the Wynn resort is helping, not hurting, local businesses and propelling a turnaround for his city.

“A five-star gaming resort that’s the caliber of Wynn Boston Harbor does not take away from local businesses,” he says. “Rather, Wynn is bringing in tourists who would never otherwise have visited our city, while generating $660 million a year in taxes, payroll, goods, and services—including at least $100 million in commerce with local vendors. That’s nearly $2 million a day injected into our local economy. And that’s not counting one dollar of secondary spending in and around Everett by Wynn’s 8 million guests a year, or Wynn’s 4,500 employees.”

DeMaria and Eldridge make some good points, but they also gloss over some inconvenient facts. For example, DeMaria’s projection of 8 million guests a year at Wynn Resorts is a reminder of the traffic the casino will draw to an already heavily congested area. At 8 million guests a year, that works out to an average of nearly 22,000 guests a day, or about the same number of people that live in Eldridge’s hometown of Acton.

Edridge, meanwhile, goes a little overboard when discussing how the provision became law. He accuses Wynn Resorts of “sneaking” the last call provision into the fiscal 2018 House budget, and claims the provision became law when Gov. Charlie Baker “failed to veto it by the end of July.”

The provision does have an interesting history. It was inserted into the House budget  by Rep. Brian Dempsey of Haverhill, the chairman of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee. Dempsey left the House shortly after the budget was finished to work for ML Strategies, the lobbying firm that represents Wynn on Beacon Hill.

But it’s hard to put all the blame on Baker for the provision becoming law. After all, the Senate went along with the provision in the House-Senate budget conference committee, even though Senate President Stanley Rosenberg had previously slammed the measure. “This is the yellow light, the caution light. If you approve this, next month there’ll be another proposal and another one after that,” Rosenberg said at the time. “This is an industry that, if you’re not careful, starts to run the table.”



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