Boston Casino-Mania-Palooza is Back On
Steve Wynn illustration by John Ueland for Clash of the Casino Titans
He’s baaa-aaaack. What, you thought Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn could quit us? It’s now been almost five years since Wynn first expressed interest in opening a casino in Massachusetts and, apparently, he’s not going to let a little hiccup in Foxboro stop him. Reports are out that he’s investigating a parcel in Everett along the Mystic River, charmingly known as the former Monsanto Chemical site. How charming is the site? This charming, according to WGBH’s Adam Reilly:
Just visited the Everett casino site. Guy doing utility work tells me that when he digs, the water is “like jello.” #mapoli
— Adam Reilly (@reillyadam) November 28, 2012
Considering that I’d rather have Jell-o than water in most scenarios, maybe that’s not such a bad thing (it probably is). Nevertheless, the Globe reported that Wynn may be in town as soon as today to personally check out the site. Here are three takeaways on what this means for Massachusetts:
1. This is good news! The new gambling law divides Massachusetts into three geographic areas, each to get one resort casino, and the state’s gambling commission has openly worried about the lack of competition in the eastern zone around Boston. So far, the Suffolk Downs bid in East Boston is the only serious contender, with many theorizing that its perceived front-runner status—and its ownership group’s deep political connections—have scared off any would-be challengers. Since the gaming commission will award the casino license in a bidding process, whatever you think of Wynn, his presence leads to greater competition, which is only a good thing for Massachusetts residents. Even if the entire former chemical site in Everett is in fact made of Jell-o, hopefully Wynn will stick it out to the end.
2. Caesars: Better at conquering than building. If there’s one area in particular where the Suffolk Downs group might benefit from a good push, it’s in the design of their casino resort. They’ve partnered with Caesars Entertainment, one of the largest casino operators in the world, to build and operate their would-be gambling palace, but here’s the troubling thing: Caesars and its CEO Gary Loveman (who actually lives in Boston) have no track record of building quality, high-end casino resorts. The company started out as Harrah’s, known as the low-end big-box store of casinos. In 2005, it merged with Caesars, picking up that chain’s flagship Las Vegas casino and a few other properties. But look at the list of casinos Caesars operates—not one of them is a high end resort that Caesars actually built. Loveman, a former Harvard Business School professor and MIT PhD, is known much more as a wonk than a visionary.
3. Wynn: A Fish Out of Water. The state finds itself in the awkward position of having Caesars—a company not very good at building casinos—locked into what’s likely the best location in eastern Massachusetts and Wynn—who is very good at building casinos—looking at a former chemical site in Everett. It’s a phrase that’s basically an argument against itself. Worsening matters, it’s not clear that Wynn’s history of success would carry over to Massachusetts. While he’s done very well in Macao and his track record in Las Vegas is top notch—he’s the man behind the Mirage, the Bellagio, and more recently, the Wynn Las Vegas—outside of those gambling meccas, he’s struggled to adapt to local circumstance, often alienating local politicians and residents with his brashness. He’s swung and missed in Vancouver, New Orleans, Connecticut, and now Foxboro, to name a few. Even when he’s gotten past the local politicians, the results haven’t always been the best. When he opened the grand Beau Rivage resort in Biloxi, Miss., the reception was lukewarm. With its over the top design, people felt that he was trying to hammer a Las Vegas-shaped peg into a Mississippi-sized hole. If you remember the Log Cabin Candyland he proposed for Foxboro—based on his own house in Sun Valley, Idaho—you know what I’m talking about. Wynn has rarely been able to look past his own grandiose tastes to adjust to local aesthetics.
So where does all this leave us? Only time will tell. Everett residents are certainly more likely to be receptive to a casino than the traffic weary neighbors of Gillette Stadium. As for whether Wynn can actually make nice with the locals this time, that, at the very least, should be entertaining to watch.