One of the first resort casinos in Massachusetts could soon open in the city of Everett, just north of Boston. Mayor Carlo DeMaria on Thursday announced an agreement with Las Vegas developer Steve Wynn that includes plans for a waterfront resort as well as a series of payments to the city. Residents will vote on the plan as a ballot referendum on June 22.
The proposed agreement takes a kind of best-defense-is-a-good-offense approach to the potential downsides of a casino. It could increase crime? Take $5 million for police and fire services. Detract from local business? Here’s $50,000 in vouchers to send casino patrons to nearby restaurants and shops. Create traffic problems? Fixed with an unspecified investment in traffic improvements. There’s an answer to most typical objections before they can even come up.
The state’s gaming commission requires such an agreement to “appropriately address all impacts” a casino might have on its host community. The plan for Everett notably doesn’t take on addictive gambling.
Wynn is one of three developers competing for the sole casino license available in the Greater Boston area. Others have designs on Milford and the Suffolk Downs racetrack, though Wynn is the first to hammer out a community agreement.
It’s easy to see why Everett, like so many cities before it, wants the casino — especially in the competitive climate of regional licenses in Massachusetts. If Everett doesn’t snap up the area’s one casino deal, all the jobs, revenue and vaguely defined economic development could go to Milford, Suffolk Downs or someplace else. It’s the same reason the state approved casinos in the first place: Year after year, Massachusetts gamblers spend their money in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine. Now state lawmakers want a share.
Moreover, the plan could help bring economic activity to Everett’s waterfront. The casino would sit on an old industrial site along the Mystic River and include restaurants, shopping and public waterfront access. As an especially juicy incentive, the agreement calls for Wynn to pay $30 million, which the city can spend on capital improvement projects of its choosing.
It’s tough for a city to turn down the big revenue a casino promises — up to $35 million in Everett’s case, not to mention the added payments that sweeten the deal. And it’s almost as difficult to think of another sort of development that could generate so much money in one fell swoop.
But as cities look to create jobs, develop their waterfronts, repurpose defunct industrial space and otherwise achieve the promises Wynn’s casino makes Everett — and as voters weigh the agreement in June — it might be worth considering a development plan that wouldn’t have to prepay against so much anticipated harm.