Encore Boston Harbor

Billy Forester of Everett, Mass., was one of the first guests in. He worked on getting city residents to approve the casino on the former site of a chemical plant. “We got 80 percent of the vote, and it doesn’t smell here any more.”

EVERETT, Mass. — The biggest and most expensive celebrity at Encore Boston Harbor casino resort is a 7-foot statue of Popeye, a chrome sculpture by American artist Jeff Koons, purchased for $28 million.

Within the first week of the June 23 opening of the gaming venue, just steps north of Boston, thousands of visitors snapped selfies and family portraits beside it. No one posed with a can of spinach — but almost everyone flexed a bicep.

Fans of the latest tourist attraction include Richie “The Mountain” LaMontagne, a professional boxer and one of the first construction workers to pour concrete for what is now the copper-toned palace on the skyline north of Boston. LaMontagne grew up in Everett.

“We had to stop and pinch ourselves,” said LaMontagne, who came on opening day with his childhood friend, Tony Raymond; both of whom worked on the project and still live in the area. LaMontagne was a pile driver. “My friends did the tower.”

“Destination Everett!” said Raymond. “This is our hometown. We used to drink beers in the marsh and run from the cops. Now we’re on the map.”

On the site of a former chemical plant that leached effluent into the Mystic River, this $2.6 billion resort hotel and games-of-chance play land is poised to reinvent Everett, a city of 50,000. It’s now embracing big dreams, including an entertainment district spanning the river leading into Boston Harbor. In the eyes of Wynn Resorts, it’s an expensive and strategic bet, one that resonates with many locals and expands Wynn’s holdings to the East Coast. Wynn is the first major casino developer to plant a stake in Boston. The question is: What will be the payoff?

“We’ve been to Las Vegas,” said Qin Li of Malden. “This is Las Vegas here, for people who live in Boston.”

There are plans to improve mass transit, including rapid bus service from downtown and outlying cities. The metropolitan area has the worst commuter logjams in the nation, out-clogging even Los Angeles, according to an INRIX study released in February.

Boston incrementally has been reborn into an East Coast cultural and business mecca through a combination of investment and expansion in high tech, biotech, health and medicine and higher education, becoming a hub for arts and entertainment, known for its high quality of life.

Now the challenge is to attach Everett, a grayer prosthetic, to Boston’s magic and charm.

The long-term plans for the Boston-Everett junction is to create a full-service dining and entertainment area on both sides of the Mystic, steps from the Boston line.

Proposed is a footbridge joining the Orange Line T-station at Assembly Row in Somerville.

Rapid transit bus lines that cruise down center express lanes could be a future time-saver, albeit an expensive one to create.

An expanded bike path linking Boston and Nahant to Everett is in play to lure locals.

Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria Jr. sees a jackpot that’s come to roost in his city.

Some Boston business and government leaders are a little more sanguine, adopting a wait-and-see stance.

In May, talks broke off between Wynn Resorts and MGM, which offered to buy the Everett casino.

MGM currently operates a casino in Springfield, Mass.; such a deal would have required MGM to sell that venue.

At this point, no one knows what the future holds.

Encore Boston Harbor

Everett, Mass., natives Richie “The Mountain” LaMontagne, a professional boxer, and his boyhood friend, Tony Raymond, were part of the construction crew that built Encore Boston Harbor. They’re posing before the casino’s $28 million sculpture of Popeye the Sailor, an enduring cartoon celebrity.

NH continues to spurn casino gambling

New Hampshire legislators, hotel and restaurant owners and gamblers are watching closely.

The addition of casino gambling to other gaming options that have generated revenue for the Granite State — the lottery, keno, charitable gambling, and now sports betting — has been debated for 20 years.

Opponents cite displacement of local hotels and restaurants, unpredictable future revenues, and the ethics of funding education with an additional “sin tax.”

New Hampshire’s coffers already depend on proceeds from cigarettes, liquor and bingo.

Those in favor of adding casino gambling include business leaders, lawmakers on both sides, and those who say New Hampshire is losing out while its New England neighbors pocket a handsome pile.

“While New Hampshire slept, the others were awake. We’ll see what happens now,” said New Hampshire State Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, a longtime proponent of casino gambling. “They’re going to drive down Route 93 and see it. Encore Boston Harbor wasn’t there yesterday.”

Currently 43 states have legalized casino gambling. Utah, Hawaii, Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, Vermont and New Hampshire have not.

Opponents say a large casino resort could never make it — New Hampshire is less of a destination than Boston, with a smaller population base.

“As to Encore, I’ve warned legislators. Downtown Boston has a sufficient market to sustain a multi-billion casino with all the bells and whistles” near a major airport, said Jim Rubens, former chairman of the Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling. “In New Hampshire, we’d never be able to compete with that.”

The Everett casino is proving to be a big draw thus far.

Massachusetts hopes to scoop up over $135 million in tax payments the first year, a welcome but not a game-changing plum for state coffers.

Everett looks forward to a much fatter reward: $30 million to $40 million in potential revenue, mostly from the rooms and meals tax; spillover development replacing haggard and forgotten stretches of buildings and land; and rising home and real estate values.

Six to seven hundred Everett residents currently work at the casino, and money pouring into the community could strike $300 million in payroll dollars, Everett’s mayor said at a pre-opening press conference.

The casino expects to employ 5,800 from Greater Boston.

When DeMaria Jr. thinks of the former Monsanto chemical plant squatting on this patch of riverfront, his memory flashes a picture of a grim, low industrial hulk.

“It was a disaster, it was polluted, and it was leaching into Boston Harbor,” requiring $70 million to $80 million to clean up — a bill paid by Wynn Resorts. Roughly 7,400 area construction workers erected Encore’s 26-floor copper-brown and beige-striped tower, now a landmark on the horizon.

“It’s a new day for a lot of people,” said DeMaria Jr. “It’s a new start.”

Billy Forrest, 76, a lifelong resident of Everett, was one of the first residents through the casino door on opening day.

He encouraged fellow voters to approve the project in their hometown after another Boston outlier spurned it. “This end of the city used to have big sulfur piles from Monsanto. The smell was like rotten eggs, only worse.” Some residents were called “yellow faces,” he said, because the sulfur dust in the air colored their skin.

The final vote in Everett for the casino came in at 80%.

Today Forrest is grinning: “It doesn’t smell here anymore.”

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