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Final

Brian McGrory

The dreamer and the mathematician

When I walked into the Suffolk Downs clubhouse Tuesday morning and saw hundreds upon hundreds of smiling middle aged men slapping each other’s backs, I thought, wow, they really are thinking big here: They’ve gathered every one of their lobbyists under one roof.

Ends up, those were racetrack workers and supportive neighbors. The lobbyists, strategists, and communications specialists stood quietly calculating and recalculating their monthly retainers.

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After a perfectly pleasant promotional video for the proposed Caesars casino resort was greeted by the crowd like a film at Sundance, after all the principals spoke like selfless martyrs whose only goal was job creation, it occurred to me that I should probably have an opinion on this potential sea change in my native city.

I mean, a Caesars in Boston, a sprawling casino directly on the Blue Line, so many seniors tossing their Social Security checks at slot machines that will always take more than they give.

But try as I did to conjure strong feelings, I kept looking at two guys in the front of the room and thinking that this might be the single oddest couple since John McCain and Sarah Palin.

I refer to Richard Fields, the public face of Suffolk Downs and the partner with the single biggest stake, and Gary Loveman, the chief executive of Caesars Entertainment, the gaming company that will build and run the resort.

Fields is meticulous, every hair in place, every piece of clothing tailor-made for his slim frame. He is also emotional to the point of being mercurial, romantic about horses and the culture they spawn, a businessman who has made millions, lost millions, and made more. He lives on a massive ranch in Wyoming.

He is expansive and colorful – a former publicist, comedy club operator, and Florida casino developer who has accumulated friends and enemies in bulk. He had an epic – and expensive – falling out with Donald Trump.

Loveman is massive and unkempt, with the look of someone who just visited every food truck in Copley Square on a blustery day. He is also a straight-laced former Harvard Business School professor who is all about the numbers, a casino operator who views his customers, as a Bloomberg story once memorably said, as “a set of probabilities wrapped in human flesh.”

“I am purely empirical,” Loveman said of himself in 2010. “I am only driven where the evidence takes me.”

At the podium Tuesday, Fields described the proposed casino as “all about creating energy and magic.” Loveman didn’t actually roll his eyes, but his turn was devoted to the number of jobs created and visitors anticipated.

You get the sense Fields would build the Emerald City if he had his way – though tastefully. Loveman, on the other hand, describes glitzy Las Vegas casinos as “slot boxes.”

Afterward, when I asked about their differing personalities, Loveman was so boring I nearly dozed off. Fields grabbed my arm laughingly and said, “You noticed?” He went on to say they “honor” each other’s “different skill sets,” Loveman’s analytics and Fields’s creativity.

Colleagues agree that it somehow works. Joe O’Donnell, the second largest Suffolk Downs stakeholder, is the glue that quietly holds the partnership together. He admitted Fields to the group half a dozen years ago and has encouraged him to be the public face. He also sought out Loveman and Caesars to run the project.

“They complement each other,” O’Donnell said Tuesday. “Richard is passionate. He believes in it. He’s put an awful lot of time in it. And Gary can build a billion dollar world class entertainment project.”

Chip Tuttle, the respected chief operating officer of Suffolk Downs, quoted John D. Rockefeller. “Friendships built on business partnerships often work better than businesses built on friendship,” he said.

Boston is a city where relationships matter to a sometimes bewildering degree. There’s no more interesting relationship right now than the dreamer and the mathematician, a pair that could change the way a city sees itself.

McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.
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