Questions about ethics and possible conflicts of interest are clouding the effort to bring casino gambling to Massachusetts. There are calls for the chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to step down, and questions about the impartiality of a justice who will help decide if voters get a say on the fate of casinos.
Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby is no longer participating in the licensing decision for the greater Boston resort casino, expected to be the most lucrative license the commission will issue. Crosby stepped away from the deliberations late last week amid allegations of bias that he said in some cases had been made in bad faith.
" The compounding of these issues has now gotten to the point where my participation in the decision-making process has become a distraction and a potential threat to the critical appearance of our total impartiality."
Crosby’s impartiality was questioned after he attended a party at Suffolk Downs on May 3rd to mark the opening of the horse racing season. The track is one of the competitors for the lone casino license in eastern Massachusetts. Crosby had been criticized previously for failing to publicly disclose a prior business relationship with one of the owners of property in Everett where another casino project is planned.
The mayor of Boston has publicly accused Crosby of bias and so has casino industry giant Caesars’ Entertainment in a lawsuit.
A spokesperson for Governor Deval Patrick, who appointed Crosby in 2011, said the chairman’s recusal is sufficient, but others, including five candidates for governor say, Crosby should resign.
Former Massachusetts Inspector General Greg Sullivan, who is now research director at the Pioneer Institute, says state law holds the five gaming commissioners to higher ethical standards than other state employees.
"Chairman Crosby ignored those rules. He's created a lot of problems for the state of Massachusetts as a result."
The controversy about Crosby adds to a perception that the casino licensing process is in disarray, according to Clyde Barrow, head of the Public Policy Institute at UMass Dartmouth, who follows the casino industry.
" Start with the simple fact that Massachusetts has already taken longer to license a casino since passage of legislation that any other state in the country. That is perplexing since we had 38 other states to learn from."
Casino opponents are hoping to put a question on the November ballot asking voters to repeal the 2011 gaming law. The State Supreme Judicial Court is weighing if the referendum is constitutional. The Boston Sunday Globe reported Justice Robert Cordy worked as a lawyer and lobbyist for the gaming industry in the 1990s.
Cordy, during oral arguments last week, sharply questioned the lawyer for the anti-casino activists on whether voters could repeal the gaming law after casino companies had already spent millions of dollars on the licensing process.
" You can do this without compensation," Cordy asked? When the attorney replied in the affirmative, Cordy exclaimed, " Wow!"
Tim McGee, a Boston lawyer who is following the implementation of the gaming law, said Cordy’s work for Suffolk Downs and other clients is in the public record and none of the lawyers involved in the casino referendum cases called for Cordy’s recusal.
"Sometimes these aggressive questions can be misinterpreted as implying the justice is leaning one way or the other. I don't read too much into it."
Steve Abdow, one of the organizers of the “Repeal the Casino Deal” campaign said the group’s attorneys have faith in the judicial system.
" It again points out just how messy and flawed this process is and indicates it was not ment to be to have casinos in Massachusetts."
A ruling from the SJC is expected by summer on whether the casino law repeal question can appear on the ballot.