The Circus Has Returned to Massachusetts

A week or two ago, it seemed as if Massachusetts had settled down and the casino licensing process was becoming something close to normal. But last week, the Massachusetts process erupted into a circus-like atmosphere. A circus is probably a politically incorrect metaphor after nine performers in the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus were injured in an accident in Providence, Rhode Island. It may be a politically incorrect metaphor, but I think it apt. The performers in this circus are all very serious people, not given to dancing, juggling or making funny faces, but in my mind they are behaving in very clown-like ways, pushing and shoving trying to get into the center ring.

The mayor of Boston, Martin J. Walsh, wants Boston to be a host city, thereby giving him a say in the licensing process. Walsh wants whoever gets a casino license for the area to meet with his approval and he wants the ability to extract a pound of flesh. Walsh undoubtedly thinks he can command many millions of dollars for the city in exchange for its approval. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission met to consider the issue. The mayor suggested the chairman of the gaming commission, Stephen Crosby, had a conflict of interest and should not vote on the issue. Crosby was really annoyed, he recused himself and stormed out of the meeting. It did not matter, the commission voted against Boston anyway.

Stephen Crosby, the chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has recused himself from any involvement in licensing issue in the Region A section of Massachusetts, which encompasses the proposed casinos in Everett and Revere. Crosby opened Thursday’s commission hearing by reading a prepared statement to the room. In it, Crosby said his participation in the decision making process has become a distraction, and so he was recusing himself from making any licensing decisions regarding whether Mohegan Sun or Wynn Resorts would win the Region A casino license…After making his announcement, Crosby walked out of the room. WFXT-TV, 5-8-14

The mayor took that vote as proof the commission is biased and is threatening to sue. Governor Deval Patrick, who has generally been silent on the issue and the behavior of the commission in general, criticized Crosby for attending a party with some of the prospective licensees the night before the commission meeting. In the meantime, a movement is afoot to fire Crosby because of his conflicts.

Governor Deval Patrick reprimanded the state’s top gambling regulator Wednesday for attending a private party at Suffolk Downs, calling it unwise for an official who will help decide whether a lucrative casino proposal at the track will win a license. The Globe reported Wednesday that Stephen P. Crosby, Patrick’s handpicked chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, was among the politicians, lobbyists, and gamblers mingling last Saturday at a private party the track threw to mark opening day and the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby. An open bar was offered, as well as a buffet with shrimp, clams, and a carving station. Michael Levenson, Boston Globe, 5-8-14

The implication of Crosby attending the Kentucky Derby party at Suffolk Downs is that Suffolk Downs and its new partner, Mohegan Sun, is a shoe-in for the license. And to help fuel that conspiracy theory, or should we call it a corruption theory, the commission is having “issues” with Steve Wynn’s competing project proposal.

Gaming commissioners say they are still concerned about a convicted felon’s link to the proposed Wynn Resorts casino site in Everett — which remains under scrutiny by commission investigators while a Boston city lawyer highlighted it in a hearing last week. “The circumstances surrounding the financial interests of the land ownership in Everett is a plaguing, dark problem for the commission that continues beyond commissioner (Stephen P.) Crosby’s stepping down,” said former state Inspector General Gregory Sullivan, research director at the Pioneer Institute and gaming commission critic. “I agree with the city of Boston that this is a serious concern.” Jack Encarnacao, Boston Herald, 5-12-14

While the commission, the mayor and the governor danced round and round, the state Supreme Court was in deliberation over a proposed ballot issue that would allow the voters to undo the casino legislation. One judge in particular, Robert Cordy, was very critical of the idea; his questioning was particularly harsh, aggressive and adversarial. Now, less than a week after the Supreme Court heard the arguments the Boston Globe is reporting a conflict of interest for Justice Cordy. It seems he has some financial ties to Suffolk Downs and might not want to see its chance of getting a casino voted away.

Justice Robert Cordy of the Supreme Judicial Court led the questioning of casino foes who asked the court last week to allow a ballot question that could repeal the state’s 2011 casino law. He sharply challenged the opponents’ argument that voters can abruptly make casinos illegal after casino companies have spent millions of dollars applying for licenses… It turns out Cordy has more than a passing familiarity with the difficulties casino companies have doing business in Massachusetts. In the 1990s, Cordy was a lawyer and a lobbyist for Suffolk Downs, one of two possible locations for the Eastern Massachusetts casino, and a second gambling company that was seeking to build a casino in the state. Andrea Estes, Boston Globe, 5-12-14

The next acts in the circus could be startling, but fun. A clown rushes into the ring and Wynn is disqualified, another clown pulls out his paper spitting pistol and Crosby is disqualified and then the entire gaming commission is pushed out of the ring. In the final act of the show, the justices of the Supreme Court run from the ring with their heads lowered in shame. Now what? Who will award the licenses? What licenses?

There might not be any casino licenses in Massachusetts, not now, not ever. The recall measure could go on the ballot in November and the voters could repeal everyone – commissioners, licensees and the host cities. Of course, I don’t think any of that will happen, but I would never have believed most of what has already happened. Massachusetts is indeed unique. When the circus is in town, as it is at the moment, it is a very interesting place.


1 Response to “The Circus Has Returned to Massachusetts”

  1. 1 Lynne Rosner May 13, 2014 at 9:19 am

    I drove across the New York state line into Jersey looking for a crematory operated by the Lenape clan for a cat who stayed by us for a few years now. I stopped to get a slice at and fill up the car but JerseyBoys had moved on so no slice for me. The brown man in the Convenience section handling the register for the gas pumps and the Scratch Off agenda told me they left for Christmas but will return when the new building is complete. I stepped outside to see where I had arrived and as I looked toward the horizon there was a billboard for online slot action Play Now in New Jersey. I had arrived in Clown City. The trip didn’t end there but the story is tiring to listen to so I’ll be brief and tell you the New England district is just bounding with energy for the next license agreement. Oy what a district.

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