With the Mass. Gaming Commission poised to decide on MGM’s proposed South End casino—the vote is expected to happen sometime this week—a group that opposes the project has called on Commission member Bruce Stebbins, a one-time city councilor and City Hall economic development director, to recuse himself from the vote.
In a public letter to Stebbins, Citizens Against Casino Gaming noted a provision in the casino legislation requiring that commissioners “disqualify themselves from proceedings in which their impartiality might reasonabl[y] be questioned.”
“Clearly, your former position as business development director in Springfield and two terms on the Springfield City Council serves as a basis for your impartiality to reasonably be questioned,” continued the letter, which was signed by Michael Kogut, an attorney and a leader of Citizens Against Casino Gaming. “As questions about the process continue to swirl, it is not only prudent for you to recuse yourself from the MGM Resorts International suitability vote but all future votes relative to the MGM Resort International gaming casino proposal in Springfield. Indeed, state law requires it.”
The letter came on the heels of the recent disclosure by Stephen Crosby, the commission’s chair, that he is a long-time friend and former business partner of Paul Lohnes, who owns property in Everett where Wynn Resorts has proposed building a casino. Last week, Caesars casino company filed a federal lawsuit against the commission alleging that Crosby had been unduly harsh on its proposal for a casino at the Suffolk Downs race track in order to benefit Lohnes. Suffolk Downs dropped Caesars as a partner this fall after concerns were raised about the likelihood of its passing the MGC’s review.
I’ve contacted Stebbins for comment and will share his response. Elaine Driscoll, a spokesperson for the commission, gave me this statement: “Commissioner Stebbins has complete confidence in his ability to conducted himself impartially. All members of the commission have a strong commitment to transparency and integrity and will continue to apply those standards to every decision made.”
Last year, Stebbins sought an opinion from the state Ethics Commission on whether his earlier work for City Hall would preclude his voting on a Springfield casino-license proposal. “I’m a diligent, impartial, thoughtful person,” he told the Republican at the time. “I’ve brought that attitude and that mentality to the commission.”
The anonymous casino-watchdog website CasinoWhispers.com has also raised questions about Stebbins’ ability to be impartial about a Springfield casino. (I’d include a link, but, as of this morning, that website seems to be out of commission—not, it should be noted, for the first time.)