Wynning and Losing

When Lyndon Johnson became president after John F. Kennedy’s death, some said their differences proved “Austin isn’t Boston.” Perhaps Steve Wynn wonders whether they meant Austin, Nev.

Wynn wants to build a $1 billion casino in Foxborough, Mass., next to Gillette Stadium, the home of the New England Patriots. But the town’s board of selectmen voted 3-2 to ask the governor and state regulators not to allow the casino there.  The companies owned by Wynn and Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who owns the land where the stadium would be built, issued a statement saying, “We’re disappointed with the board’s decision to deny Foxborough taxpayers the due process they are entitled to under the state’s gaming law. We have not made any decisions regarding next steps.”

The problem is that, under the Massachusetts law that allows casino gambling, while Wynn and Kraft can ask for a vote of the people, first they have to negotiate with local leaders. Foxborough’s leaders aren’t interested. Stephen Crosby, the state gaming commission chair and a former aide to two Republican governors of Massachusetts, told The Boston Globe, “There absolutely will not be casino gambling in any community that does not want it. The governor and the Legislature were slam-dunk clear on that point.” Meanwhile, according to reports, constituents keep calling their representatives about the issue, though they apparently aren’t demanding that they accede to Wynn’s and Kraft’s demands.

What seems striking about this is the similarities to and differences from Las Vegas, and how this ties in with national politics.

First, on national politics, Wynn appears to have changed his mind. Could it have been just under six months ago that he announced, “I’m afraid to do anything in the current political environment in the United States,” and that until Barack Obama is “gone, everybody is going to be sitting on their thumbs”?

It appears that he may need help from government officials a bit higher up than the selectman of Foxborough. Those who come to mind include Gov. Deval Patrick, who happens to be a good friend of Obama; or perhaps the state Legislature, where Democrats have supermajorities in both houses. And Massachusetts Democrats don’t tend to be like Nevada Democrats. More often, it’s Massachusetts Republicans who have more of a resemblance to Nevada Democrats.

And he wishes to expand his operations into a state that Republicans like to call “Taxachusetts” (although its tax burden isn’t much above the national average).  But the Tax Foundation—theoretically nonpartisan, but in reality very partisan in its dislike for taxes and
government—ranks Massachusetts No. 32 among the states in business climate and Nevada fourth, which raises the question of why Wynn doesn’t build another beautiful resort to go with the Wynn and Encore instead of going east to such a liberal, anti-business climate.

Thus the comparison to Nevada, where many analysts long have contended that this isn’t a two-party state—rather, there’s one party: the gaming party. It would be possible to count on one hand the number of times Wynn hasn’t gotten his way in Nevada, from closing Carson Street to expand the Golden Nugget to a legislative enactment related to art. And that isn’t meant to be critical of Wynn. If elected officials like what he proposes, that isn’t his fault.

But Wynn has profited handsomely from entering the market in Macau, which has some governmental independence but remains, after all, under the control of that bastion of libertarianism —China. In Macau, the 2011 gaming revenues topped $33 billion—more than the 20 leading U.S. casino areas in 2010 combined.  Perhaps all of this is a reminder that Nevada opened a can of worms by permitting its gaming licensees to look elsewhere, and that the state and Clark County might want to think of other means of finding revenue. Ya think?