A proposed Encore Casino development project by Wynn Resorts, which will see construction of a 1,000-seat entertainment venue across from the Everett Casino, has drawn criticism from nearby cities and communities, with local theater operators saying the venue will further erode their bottom line.
At a hearing Monday, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission heard public input on the proposal, which has been revised from an earlier version held ahead of a public hearing on Feb. 10. Troy Siebels of the Massachusetts Performing Arts Coalition and president of Worcester’s Hanover Theater said Encore is already circumventing the theater seating restrictions in the state’s casino statute, which dictates that casinos cannot build an entertainment venue that seats between 1,000 and 3,500.
“Putting 2,000 chairs in a grand ballroom and selling tickets may not technically be theater construction, but it’s pretty clear it’s not in the spirit of the legislation,” Siebels said.
Encore’s proposed East of Broadway development provides 20,000 square feet for restaurants and retail outlets, a 999-seat event space (upgraded from a previous proposal for a 1,800-seat venue), a 2,300-space parking garage, and a pedestrian bridge linking the casino with the Casino connects the new project.
At the hearing, several speakers spoke about what they believed to be predatory practices at larger nearby venues. Local theater operators said they are being undercut as Encore’s casino profits allow them to subsidize lower ticket prices that the smaller venues can’t match.
Attorney Dan Rabinovitz of the Boston law firm Murphy & King is representing the city of Medford, which is home to the 1,850-seat Chevalier Theater. Rabinovitz said Encore is already violating state casino statutes by exceeding seating limits in public places. “It’s not against the spirit of the law. It’s a violation of the law,” Rabinovitz said.
He asked the commission to fine the casino or issue a stern warning for previous violations, and said if necessary, he could file an injunction on his client’s behalf against Encore for violating the casino statute.
The measure. Gaming Commission held a series of public hearings to determine whether the proposed development project opposite Encore Casino is part of the gaming establishment and therefore falls under the Commission’s jurisdiction and regulatory oversight.
Friends of Chevalier Auditorium board member Ken Krause criticized Encore officials for initially denying that the development project was an expansion of the casino. Per the East of Broadway Development Project’s proposal, Wynn, MA LLC has determined that the new structures — including the restaurants, parking garages, entertainment venues, and pedestrian bridge — are “non-gaming” structures and should not be considered part of any expansion of the casinos.
Krause said by naming the planned project as part of the gaming establishment, it would prevent Encore from directly competing with smaller to midsize venues and adding 1,000 or more seats.
“That’s part of our concern that there’s nothing that would stop them from raising money if it’s not really part of the gaming commission [the number of seats] reset to any number,” he said.
As an example, Krause points to a performance by the music group The B-52s at Encore Casino in 2019 and how Encore Casino was able to lure them into gambling for more money than other local venues could offer.
“The B-52s have all but been signed to perform at the Chevalier Theater this year. Then the casino came along and offered the B-52s three times what the Chevalier Theater would offer them to play with,” Krause said.
Casey Cormier of Beverly’s Cabot Theater expressed concern about predatory booking practices and said seating capacity was a real issue at the venue. The Cabot Theater is a major cultural and economic landmark that brings in $10 to $12 million annually to the city, she said.
“We’re the smallest theater in our cohort, we seat 850, so a venue that seats 999 or less would put us in direct competition,” Cormier said.
Pressing for more examples, Massachusetts Gaming Commissioner Bradford Hill said: “I was a little surprised when you started talking about predatory practices and the fact that the B-52s were going to Medford and then Encore. ”
Krause gave no further examples, but added that “they call it the ‘casino game,'” a term used by venue operators to describe the practice of booking agents trying to sell smaller venues against casinos Play to get the highest payout. for performances or planned events.
Representatives from Wynn were not present at the hearing. The Gambling Commission is continuing to review the proposal and expects to make a decision at its March 10 meeting.