Wynn Everett Mohegan Sun Massachusetts Gaming Commission

In the event of a tie, Wynn Resorts would have to face off with competitor Mohegan Sun for a Greater Boston area casino license. This is the proposed Wynn site. (Image: DAVID L. RYAN/Boston Globe)

When Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen P. Crosby recused himself from the Greater Boston casino vote, nobody had a problem with the decision itself. After all, even the appearance of impropriety could cause a huge scandal when awarding a license that could eventually be worth billions of dollars. But it left just four members on the panel to choose between proposals from Wynn Resorts and Mohegan Sun, which left one very important question: what would happen in the case of a 2-2 tie?

Late last week, the state Gaming Commission dismissed those concerns, saying that they had procedures in place to handle the possibility of a tie, and that such a deadlock wouldn’t stop them from awarding a license.

“We’re not the first board to have an even number of members,” said Commissioner James McHugh. “It’s inconceivable to me that we won’t reach a decision.”

In Case of Tie, Developers Will Make Final Appeals

It’s possible that even if the panel is split evenly in their preferences for one project, they may all agree to award the license to the project they feel most comfortable with overall. But barring that, it’ll be up to the two casino developers to win what amounts to a “sudden death” contest for the license.

This isn’t a game show, so there won’t be any lightning rounds, attractive hostesses, or giant wheels to spin. Instead, the first step would be to have each applicant provide more details or give a more in-depth presentation on their resort plans in an attempt to win over commissioners.

If that doesn’t work, the awarding of the license could turn into a high-stakes bidding war. The commission could ask each developer to sweeten the pot a little, making their bids just that much more attractive. This could continue until someone clearly outdoes their opponent and one of the commissioners decides to change their vote.

According to McHugh, this would likely work quickly to break any deadlock. The commission’s deliberations take place entirely in public, so both developers would know exactly what the commission’s concerns were and how to address them.

“The likelihood, I think, is nonexistent that after going through these tools that we’d still be tied,” McHugh said. “It’s just not going to happen.”

Tie Unlikely to Occur

Chances are that McHugh is right, and it’s even quite likely that the tiebreaking procedures won’t be needed at all. In the two years since the commission has existed, almost all votes have been unanimous.

But the potential for a problem was realized earlier this month when Crosby said he would sit out on the question of a Greater Boston casino. Crosby made that decision after it turned out he had potential conflicts of interest on both sides of the debate: he had ties to one of the owners of the Everett land that the Wynn resort would be built on, while he also attended a party to celebrate the opening day of racing at Suffolk Downs earlier this year.

The Greater Boston casino license is expected to be awarded by early September, after host community meetings are held in both Revere and Everett and the city of Boston can determine what compensation it should receive as a surrounding community to either project. It is highly likely that the Western Massachusetts license will be awarded well before then, in early June. In addition, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is expected to rule in July on whether voters will be allowed a chance to repeal the casino expansion later this year.