Casinos: “Will Not Come Quickly” State Delegation Tells Councillors

January 19, 2012
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State legislators told the City Council at a special meeting last Thursday that it could be more than two years before any possible casino exists in Revere, and they indicated that the process will play out slowly, but correctly.

State Sen. Anthony Petruccelli (D-Eastie) and State Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstein (D-Revere) enlightened a Revere City Council Committee of the Whole last Thursday night in a special meeting that concerned expanded gaming and lasted more than one hour.

Reinstein and Petruccelli laboriously explained the detailed process that is set out in the recently passed expanded gaming bill – which allows for one casino in the Greater Boston area.

At the moment, Reinstein said that the process is at a standstill while everyone waits for the new Gaming Commission to be appointed. So far, only the chair has been chosen.

“It’s tough to tell people what the timeline would be,” said Reinstein. “We can’t determine the timeline. By March 21st the Commission has to be established and so far only one person has been appointed. You could be negotiating a mitigation package (with Suffolk Downs) by the end of February or you could be negotiating a mitigation package by the end of July. So, it’s all about when all of the Commission is ready to roll.”

Added Petruccelli, “I think anywhere in Massachusetts you’re looking at 2 ½ years of time from when this was signed in November until we see a casino open. That’s been the average in other jurisdictions that have passed expanded gaming.”

Most of the meeting, though, was spent explaining the detailed steps that will be taken once the new Gaming Commission is established.

They said that once that is done, an entity like Suffolk Downs would be charged with presenting a proposal to a host community – in the local case, both Revere and Boston.

That proposal would initiate a host community agreement negotiating process with the City Council – a process that must be completed before anything else is done.

“If the Council decides that they don’t want to enter into any process, that stops the developer right there,” said Reinstein. “If you do decide to enter into negotiations, you will discuss specifics like mitigation issues at that time. It’s during that mitigation process that issues like roadway infrastructure, additional needs for police and fire personnel, and community improvement needs would be determined.”

Petruccelli said the mitigation package is really something that should be defined by the community.

“There’s no wrong or right answer to it,” said Petruccelli. “I’ve seen places in Pennsylvania that have provided property tax relief for seniors and I’ve seen places in Pennsylvania that allow points that are built up in the casino to be transferred and used in local businesses. In Iowa they’ve established a successful scholarship program for kids. It’s about reflecting the priorities of the community.”

Revere Economic Development Director John Festa said the Mayor’s Office had begun compiling an early mitigation package and invited the councillors and the public to collaborate.

“We want the public to give us input on this and we’d like the councillors to make lists of priorities and we can add those things to our package,” said Festa.

Council President Richard Penta – who called the meeting – said that this was the time for councillors to begin making wish lists, but he also cautioned them not to think too big.

“I don’t want us to look ridiculous in putting together a $3 billion wish list here,” he said. “I’m not saying to not throw what you want on there, but let’s be realistic about it.”

Once any mitigation package is agreed upon by the Council, the matter will move to a vote of the people. A binding referendum vote must take place and the casino question and mitigation package must get the thumbs up from a majority of voters. If that referendum does pass, then the developer could finally submit an application package to the new Gaming Commission seeking a casino license.

At that point, the Commission would evaluate the application along with any other submissions. Each submission would be evaluated competitively with the other, and only one licensee would prevail.

“This is a competitive bidding process and it’s not a done deal for Suffolk in any sense,” said Petruccelli. “Any applicant has to earn their license and what I would suggest to the City and people of the City of Revere that is a good thing because the competition is a competition over who has the best application and mitigation package.”

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