Casino concerns again dominate at City Council meeting

With not months, but weeks, to go before the Encore Boston Harbor is set to throw open its doors, the City Council sought clarification on a number of issues regarding the gambling establishment at its monthly meeting on Tuesday, May 28. Some of the issues had been raised previously while others were brand new.

•Participation Restrictions

Councilor Peter Napolitano had previously asked that the City Solicitor look into whether or not elected officials are legally able to visit the casino once opened. City Solicitor Colleen Mejia came armed with the answers Council was looking for, provided by KP Law, gaming law experts.

In short, the Councilors will have unlimited access to the casino and its facilities, but only as private citizens. The occasions upon which they would be able to visit the casino as representatives of the City Council would be limited to the grand opening ribbon cutting ceremony and events called “play days.” The idea is that they can declare those visits as fulfilling a “legitimate public purpose” by promoting the City and gathering information to relay to constituents.

When representing Council, Councilors would have to fill out a disclosure form stating that the visit represents a public purpose and thus does not constitute the appearance of a conflict. They will be able to accept any free food and beverages offered at those events, provided they don’t exceed a value of $50. Anything above $50 would also have to be disclosed in writing.

•Conflicts of Interest

Mejia was also invited to speak about the larger issue of conflicts of interest regarding elected officials and the casino, with Councilor Wayne Matewsky suggesting that anyone on the Council with family working at the casino should recuse himself from votes that would benefit the casino.

Solicitor Mejia said, in general, a Councilor should recuse himself or herself from votes impacting the casino if he or she has an immediate family member working there. However, she also emphasized that it was a case by case basis. 

“I would always advise to run it by the State Ethics Commission, as their opinion is the official opinion,” she said, adding that any decision by State Ethics was communicated only to the individual and it was his or her job to inform Council of the decision.

•Fine Payment

At the last Council meeting, Councilor Anthony DiPierro presented a resolution for what should be done with the $35 million fine paid by Wynn Resorts to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. Several Councilors had agreed that it shouldn’t be treated as regular gambling income and should instead be reinvested in the host city, Everett.

The Mayor’s Chief of Staff Kevin O’Donnell spoke to Council on this topic, stating that the fine payment would be treated as gambling revenue and would be controlled by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. He said that 6.5 percent would go to the community mitigation fund, which some have proposed go toward traffic management, and 50 percent would go into the Transportation Infrastructure Fund.

Councilor DiPierro asked the Chief of Staff to speak to the Gaming Commission about the City’s needs for transportation alternatives, such as a footbridge.

•Petition for Extended Hours

Councilors voted unanimously to approve Encore’s request for a special license for extended hours. Encore had previously requested approval from Council but the Council had moved to postpone a vote until after the City presented its traffic and parking master plan on May 28. 

•Road Safety

Councilor Michael McLaughlin’s constituents have expressed concern that extending Encore’s liquor license into the early morning hours could lead to an increase in people driving while intoxicated, thus making the streets less safe.

To see if that was a legitimate concern, Councilor McLaughlin requested the Everett Chief of Police and the Massachusetts Gaming State Police provide statistics about DUIs in Springfield. 

He is curious whether DUIs in that town have increased in the wake of the MGM Casino’s new 4 a.m. liquor license.

•Host Agreement

Councilor McLaughlin also requested clarification on the host agreement between the City and the casino. He wanted to know if there was a clause that would address what would happen if Encore failed to meet its projected earnings and wanted to renegotiate its contributions to the City.

Councilor McLaughlin would like the Mayor and an Encore representative to appear at a committee meeting on June 4 to discuss the issue.

•Complaint Hotline

Councilors unanimously proposed the creation of a citizens complaint hotline serviced by Encore, which residents could call to discuss any concerns about how the casino is impacting their community.

“We need an exclusive line for complaints, especially in the first year, even if it’s a recorded line,” said Councilor Matewsky. “We’re going to get an increase in calls. I want it advertised in the newspapers of the host city. This is a simple request.”

Councilor Matewsky sum-med up his outlook on the casino with the following:

“It’s a dream come true. Hopefully it’s not a nightmare.”

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