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Mohegan Sun goes negative on Wynn in Massachusetts casino fight

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Wynn Resorts / AP

This artist’s rendering released Wednesday, March 27, 2013, by Wynn Resorts shows a proposed resort casino on the banks of the Mystic River in Everett, Mass.

Officials at Mohegan Sun, who want to build a casino hotel in Revere, unveiled a pointed turn in their public relations strategy Monday, offering new and aggressive criticism of a rival casino proposal by Wynn Resorts in Everett.

"Unlike Wynn, our commitment [to building in Massachusetts] is not contingent on anything," Mitchell Etess, chief executive of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, said in an interview at the Boston Globe.

Click to enlarge photo

Steve Wynn meets with the media in a villa at Wynn Las Vegas on Wednesday, April 27, 2011.

He said that Wynn Resorts, the Las Vegas company run by billionaire casino developer Steve Wynn, has demanded numerous accommodations from state offices — on environmental regulations, taxes, access to his proposed site, and other considerations — and suggested Wynn may not proceed with his project if he does not get what he wants.

"We're ready," said Etess. "We don't need changes in the law."

Mohegan Sun, which has a deal to lease 42 acres of land at the Suffolk Downs racetrack for a casino resort, has been mostly mild-mannered in its public comments since joining the race for the Greater Boston resort casino license in November, extolling its own project without sharp criticism of Wynn. The company's communication strategy was similar to the cautious approach favored by Suffolk Downs officials in an earlier casino proposal on the East Boston side of the racetrack property, which voters rejected last November.

What changed?

"At some point, we felt we needed to point these things out," said Etess.

That point may have come late last month, when the competing casino companies each made public presentations before the state gambling commission.

Mohegan Sun barely acknowledged there was another applicant for the license, instead focusing on the merits of its own proposal.

Wynn, on the other hand, personally blasted Mohegan Sun's building design and suggested that the rival company had a tax incentive to steer big gamblers away from Massachusetts and to the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut, where table game revenues are not taxed.

Etess struck back Monday, saying Mohegan Sun's agreement with its financial partner, Brigade Capital Management, contains language to ensure the casino company cannot favor the Connecticut property over a Revere casino.

Etess said Mohegan Sun could be up and running more quickly, in part because the property where Wynn wants to build, a former chemical site, is contaminated and must be cleaned. Etess also suggested Wynn may be unable to move forward without changes to state environmental regulations, which a Wynn project development adviser denies.

Etess also criticized a series of recommendations Wynn submitted to the gambling commission, outlining proposed changes to the state's casino law.

All casino applicants were instructed on their application form: "Describe any postlicensing actions by the Commission or the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that you believe will be essential for the success of the project you are proposing."

Wynn's list recommended changes to the way cash prizes must be reported for tax purposes, and proposed that commercial casinos pay state tax equal to whatever revenue-sharing provisions are paid by a tribal casino, among a number of other suggestions.

Mohegan Sun, Etess said, is willing to work within the rules Massachusetts established. The company's application answered the question about proposed changes this way: "Because we participated in the gaming act's creation and noted the careful deliberation with which the Legislature used to craft it, [Mohegan Sun] does not think that the gaming act needs any major legislative changes to be successful."

Clyde Barrow, a casino expert at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, said the main audience for Mohegan Sun's new, more aggressive posture "would be the Gaming Commission, since they are the ones that will make the decision about issuing the license."

He said it is common for casino companies to bad-mouth each other in competitive battles for limited licenses.

"The initial process is to call attention to your project and point out the positives on its own merits," said Barrow. "The next stage of that argument is to point out the contrast between your project and the competitors."

Though casino companies have been competing in Massachusetts for more than a year, they have mostly refrained from attacking each other publicly until recently.

One early exception occurred in late 2012, when representatives from three gambling companies pitching casinos in Springfield ripped each other's projects in an article in The Republican newspaper.

Springfield city officials privately warned the companies to play nice.

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