Milford casino no longer dark horse

Today’s Globe provides an update on Milford’s proposed Foxwoods casino. This is an unfortunate development for partisans of Steve Wynn and Suffolk Downs, because it’s a reminder that when the state Gaming Commission hands out its eastern Massachusetts casino license next year, the commission actually has a choice other than Everett or East Boston. And if neither East Boston nor Everett are inevitable, the whole calculus behind the politicking around the two urban casinos falls apart.

The Milford site, controlled by developer David Nunes, has long been a dark horse in the state’s casino sweepstakes. Just a year ago, the CEO of Caesars, the prospective operating partner at Suffolk, was swatting Milford away like an overactive puppy. Back then, Wynn didn’t have a workable casino site, and Nunes had land, but not a casino operator or a financing partner. Suffolk Downs had a sheen of inevitability around it. That sheen has worn off, mostly as Suffolk and Wynn, and their respective political patrons, have engaged in an increasingly heated war of words. The heat around Wynn versus Suffolk, which is really Wynn versus Boston’s Mayor for Life, has overshadowed anything happening way off in the woods off Interstate 495. But what’s happening in the Milford woods is as much a treat as any weirdly tanned billionaire could be.
While Menino tries to bludgeon Wynn with a spit of polluted land in Charlestown he just rediscovered, Nunes has been quietly putting together a legitimate casino bid in Milford. He secured Foxwoods as an investor and operator. And, the Globe reports today, he’s methodically moving toward securing a mitigation package with his host community — something Suffolk Downs still doesn’t have. Milford’s selectmen are milling over a draft mitigation package that would see the casino pay $18 million in annual property taxes, as well as make other one-time payments to the municipality. The agreement looks on track for an early November referendum, and a Town Meeting vote following closely behind.
Up until now, Suffolk Downs’ main selling point has been the inevitability of an urban casino landing either in or just outside Boston. Most of the candidates lining up to succeed Menino have jumped on board with Suffolk, even though not all have done so enthusiastically. The logic has been that, if it’s a race between Everett and East Boston, the facility might as well go in Eastie, because at least then, the city could get a piece of the financial action. Just one candidate, Bill Walczak, has come out against a Suffolk casino outright.
As Milford’s bid advances, though, the fault lines should begin shifting from an Everett versus Eastie showdown, to the question of whether one of the country’s most liberal cities wants to be anywhere near a casino at all. There’s ample evidence indicating that a casino, whether it’s near the Chelsea Creek or the Mystic River, would magnify the social and economic downside that comes with casino gambling. As CommonWealth’s Michael Jonas previously wrote, problem gamblers — those suffering from moderate or severe gambling addiction — represent a tiny sliver of the population living around a casino, but they’re responsible for 35 percent of casino revenues. The casino business model is addiction. And addiction follows proximity to a casino; the closer people live to a casino, the more likely they are to get addicted. So if a community sitting way off I-495 wants to get involved in this business, why would Boston want to stop them?



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