During Tuesday’s virtual public hearing held by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC), criticism was aimed at Wynn Resorts over its proposed expansion of Encore Boston Harbor casino in Everett.
Critics say Wynn has failed to deliver on promises made when it opened Encore Boston Harbor in 2019.
They cite low wages, unfair tax policy, pollution and traffic congestion as major concerns to the expansion project.
Workers claim labor issues
Members of UNITE HERE Local 26, which represents workers at Encore Boston Harbor, protested last month calling for higher wages, increased benefits, and better working conditions. The union has indicated it will call for a strike vote, perhaps as early as this month, if Wynn fails to address its concerns.
“We’re glad that the MGC is giving consideration to feedback from different voices, including those of workers,” said Carlos Aramayo, President, UNITE HERE Local 26, in a statement provided to PlayMA before the hearing. “Our union is committed to making sure that, as Encore Boston Harbor continues to grow, it can multiply the number of good-paying jobs to area residents. But we can only support this expansion if there is a labor harmony commitment on all aspects of this application’s operations. As of today, regrettably, no such commitment has been made.”
The 2019 host agreement between Everett and Wynn Resorts, which delivered tax breaks for the casino and cleared the way for the construction of the largest casino in the state, is under fire.
Wynn reported more than $175 million in revenue in the first quarter of 2023, but according to employees, wages and working conditions are substandard. Many EBH employees make far less than workers in the same positions who are on Wynn’s payroll at resorts in Las Vegas.
The hearing on Tuesday was the second public meeting to solicit feedback on Wynn’s proposed expansions. In April, the MGC held an event in Everett which welcomed comment. The vast majority of public comment at that time was opposed to the EBH proposal. In part because of the overwhelming participation in that hearing, the MGC scheduled this second hearing, hosting it online via virtual technology.
Citizens have their doubts
Some citizens of Everett are not keen on a casino expansion.
John McDonald is a 40-year resident of Everett who sees inequity in the way that Wynn has been favored.
“People who pay attention in Everett know this is not working for Everett residents,” McDonald said in his public comment.
“I see my taxes going up, 6-8 percent a year,” McDonald continued. “[But] Wynn has theirs capped at 2-3%.”
McDonald, who described himself as “just a guy who pays his taxes,” said that he is in favor of a referendum on the ballot over the East Broadway expansion, because “the proposal is only good for Wynn, not the people [in the community].”
McDonald says he voted to support the EBH casino, but now has doubts.
“I thought there would be a partnership with Everett, but my expectations were apparently too high,” he said. “All [Wynn has] done [is] create more traffic and pollution. A new parking lot [under EBH expansion plans] would add to that.”
Concern from employees
Employees at EBH have their own concerns about EBH expanding in Everett.
Steward supervisor Elizabeth Njoroge, an Everett resident since 2004 and EBH employee since 2019, pointed out that wages are low in light of the increase in cost of living in Everett since Wynn opened.
“We voted for the casino as a way to increase our revenue, but the casino has led to an increase in cost of living,” Njoroge said.
She explained that her rent has increased from $1,300 to $2,300 since the casino opened. In contrast, she’s received only a $2 per hour raise since 2019.
“Our current salaries are no longer sufficient to sport or families,” she said. ” … The question is what type of jobs will the expansion bring?”
Details of Encore Boston Harbor expansion plans
Wynn has submitted a plan that would develop property on Broadway Avenue across the street from its casino in Everett.
The proposal calls for additional betting space, an entertainment stage and venue, a poker room, 20,000 square feet of restaurant space and a parking deck on the property. A pedestrian bridge would be built across Broadway to connect it to the existing EBH casino resort.
The proposal is known as the East of Broadway Development, and it’s scope has been approved by the MGC. Final approval has not been made, however.
The MGC will accept public comment on the East of Broadway Development project all week. Anyone who wants to add their comment can do so by emailing [email protected] using the subject line “East of Broadway Development.” Comments will be accepted until 4 p.m. on Friday, June 9.