EVERETT, Mass. -- Voters in Everett overwhelmingly approved an agreement between city officials and Steve Wynn, the Las Vegas casino mogul who wants to build a $1.2 billion resort casino at the site of a former chemical plant on the Mystic River.Saturday's vote was the first binding referendum on a casino proposal since passage of the state's expanded gambling law in 2011. The host community agreement was backed by a more than 6-to-1 margin, according to the city clerk. Passage was required before Wynn could apply to the state gambling commission for one of the three casino licenses allowed under the law. "The decision of the Massachusetts Legislature to require community approval of gaming developments was a wise one," Wynn said after the vote in a statement released by his firm, Wynn Resorts ( WYNN). "It is rooted in the common-sense notion that for any development to be meaningful, it must have robust support within the community. "The voters of Everett have spoken clearly and decisively. The vote heightens our enthusiasm and dedication to this fine project." The deal struck with Mayor Carlo DeMaria and other city officials calls for Wynn, whose Las Vegas properties include Bellagio and The Mirage, to make $30 million in advance payments to Everett and more than $25 million in annual payments if the casino is built. In the agreement, Wynn also promised to mitigate traffic impacts in the city and complete a multimillion-dollar cleanup of pollution at the site, plus give hiring preference to Everett residents for the estimated 8,000 temporary and permanent jobs the project would bring. Wynn turned his focus to Everett, a city of about 42,000 residents just north of Boston, after an earlier proposal to build a casino in Foxborough ran into opposition from many residents and officials. In Everett, City Councilor Michael McLaughlin, whose district includes the proposed casino site, said he was thrilled by the resounding vote of support for the project but acknowledged many hurdles remain. "This is the first step of many milestones we have to cross," McLaughlin said. "This gives us the momentum and the energy to go forward."
One challenge facing Wynn and Everett officials is persuading neighboring communities to also sign on to the casino proposal. Mayor Joseph Curtatone of Somerville is among those who have expressed major reservations about the plan. McLaughlin said he hoped to sit down with Curtatone and others in the coming weeks and try to convince them that the proposed development will bring regional economic benefits. No organized group formed in Everett to oppose the plan, but some residents were wary of a casino bringing traffic gridlock, crime and other social ills. "This is just round one of a very long fight," Evmorphia Stratis, a local artist who emerged as an unofficial spokeswoman against the project, said of Saturday's vote. She called casinos a "predatory business." Wynn's plan could be in competition for the eastern Massachusetts casino license with proposals from Suffolk Downs in partnership with Caesars Entertainment ( CZR) and Foxwoods Resorts, which is backing a proposed casino in Milford. Host agreements have not been signed yet in those communities and votes have not been scheduled.