Gambling commission stepping into Menino-Wynn dispute

The fight between Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Las Vegas casino developer Steve Wynn is beginning to reflect poorly on the Massachusetts casino license competition, according to the head of the state’s casino commission, who says regulators may need to step in to settle the dispute.

“When you have two parties spatting in public, it makes everything look disorganized or suspect or political,” said Stephen Crosby, chairman of the state gambling commission, during the panel’s meeting today.

Menino and Wynn are arguing over whether Boston qualifies, under the 2011 state casino law, as a “host community” for Wynn’s $1.3 billion casino resort proposal on the Mystic River waterfront in Everett, based on Boston’s claim that part of the project may be in the capital city.

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The commission will invite representatives from Menino’s office and from Wynn’s company, Wynn Resorts, to discuss the dispute at the commission’s next meeting in two weeks.

Both sides say they are eager to accept the invitation.

“We look forward to meeting soon with the Gaming Commission and resolving this issue,” Wynn Resorts said Thursday in a statement.

Said Menino’s spokesperson, Dot Joyce: “We’ve been trying to get to the bottom of this murky situation for a while and welcome the opportunity to get more clarity on this proposal.”

The dispute is important because host communities have tremendous power over gambling projects, including the power to block them. Menino supports a competing casino project at Suffolk Downs in East Boston. If Boston is designated a host community to the Wynn project, Menino could eliminate one of Suffolk Downs’ rivals.

Wynn Resorts insists that Everett is the only host community for the project, and has suggested Boston falls under the lesser designation of “surrounding community,” which would enable the city to negotiate with Wynn for compensation but would not permit Boston to block the project by refusing to bargain or by demanding too much.

If the commissioners cannot nudge the sides to a resolution, the regulators may settle the matter with a formal hearing that would look a lot like a trial, with witnesses, cross-examinations and documents entered into evidence.

“My predilection,” said Crosby, “is it is pretty near time for us to intercede.”

The dispute has simmered for months, since the early days after Wynn offered his plan to develop a gambling resort in Everett. The disagreement exploded two weeks ago, when Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria accused Menino of trying to “bully” the city of Everett and state officials to gain a political advantage for Suffolk Downs.

Menino, in response, said he is trying to protect Boston residents, especially in Charlestown near the site of the Wynn proposal, where additional traffic is a major concern.

Boston’s claim as a potential host community rests with the odd shape of the city line, which darts across the Mystic River into the edge of the former Monsanto chemical site where Wynn intends to build.

The 2011 state casino law defines a host community as “a municipality in which a gaming establishment is located” or proposed. A “gaming establishment,” under the law, is “a gaming area and any other nongaming structure related to the gaming area and may include, but shall not be limited to, hotels, restaurants or other amenities.”

Wynn has said he has no development plans in Boston.

But Boston officials point to Suffolk Downs, which is bisected by the Boston-Revere city line. Suffolk Downs has treated Revere as a host community for that project, even though the planned casino construction is on the Boston side of the city line.