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Massachusetts denies Boston request to delay casino license

By Elizabeth Barber

BOSTON (Reuters) - Massachusetts gaming regulators unanimously denied a request from Boston’s mayor on Wednesday to delay awarding a casino license near the city until November, saying that voters have the right to know where the casino will be built before heading to the polls.

Mayor Marty Walsh had proposed putting the Boston-area casino licensing process on hold after the state's highest court ruled last week to allow a vote on whether to repeal the 2011 law that permitted three casinos to be licensed in the state.

Eugene O'Flaherty, a lawyer for the city, said at the hearing on Wednesday that Boston could end up having "needlessly expended significant amounts of money, time and effort" trying to negotiate compensation agreements with casino giants Mohegan Sun and Wynn Resorts Ltd if voters go on to repeal the law allowing casinos.

But officials on the Massachusetts Gaming Commission said state residents are entitled to know where the Boston-area casino will be built before voting in the fall.

"The voters will make their judgment with better information," commissioner Enrique Zuniga said.

Commissioner James McHugh accused Boston of making repeated unilateral decisions in the casino licensing process, saying the city might seek to block the casino proposals regardless of the outcome of the referendum.

Boston officials contend they are entitled to hold a citywide vote on casino projects in neighboring cities, which are closely linked to Boston.

Voters in East Boston last year rejected a proposed casino backed by Caesars Entertainment Corp. Two casinos projects for cities abutting Boston – a Mohegan Sun development in Revere and Wynn's proposal in Everett – have since gone forward in the competition for the sole license available in eastern Massachusetts. The commission had been set to approve one of the two projects by September.

Only one of the three casino licenses has been awarded, to Las Vegas developer MGM Resorts International, with formal licensing on hold pending the referendum.

(Editing by Scott Malone and Leslie Adler)

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