Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh questions power of state gambling commission in host community dispute

Mayor Martin J. Walsh is doubling down on his assertion that the City of Boston has the power to decide the fate of two casino proposals on its borders, and rejecting the authority of the state gambling commission to rule otherwise.

The city last week declared it is a “host community,” under the 2011 casino law, to a Wynn Resorts casino plan in Everett and a Mohegan Sun casino proposal at Suffolk Downs, the thoroughbred racetrack that straddles the East Boston-Revere city line. Host communities have the power to block casino projects through binding votes. Walsh insists that the Charlestown neighborhood deserves to vote on the Wynn project and that the East Boston neighborhood should rule on Mohegan Sun’s plan.

The commission, in response, set a hearing to review Boston’s assertions, tentatively planned for next week.

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But in a follow-up letter obtained by the Globe, Walsh told the commission on Tuesday that the city’s “declarations” that it is a host community were not an invitation for the commission to get involved in the matter.

“To the contrary,” wrote Thomas Frongillo, a lawyer representing the city, “there is a significant preliminary legal question concerning whether the commission has jurisdiction to decide the issue of Boston’s host community status.

“Although the Commission has apparently determined that it has jurisdiction, it cites no authority … to the effect that the legislature has specifically so empowered it,” Frongillo wrote.

Walsh further claimed in the letter that while state law empowers the commission to determine if a municipality qualifies for the lesser designation of “surrounding community” to a casino proposal, “the gaming act … contains no provision addressing how disputes concerning a municipality’s host status shall be resolved.”

The city claims that law and regulations “allow the city to determine its status as a host community,” and that it considers the commission’s notices of a hearing on the subject “to be invalid.”

If Walsh’s assertions hold, both casino projects would be in jeopardy. As a host community, Walsh could demand a ransom of compensation from each developer just to permit the projects to come to a vote. Neither proposal would be likely to survive a neighborhood referendum in Boston.

The gambling commission today acknowledged receiving Walsh’s letter. Commission spokesperson Elaine Driscoll said the panel would issue a response after it has had time to review the city’s claims.