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Suffolk Downs would be landlord in deal with Mohegan Sun

An aerial view of Suffolk Downs.

David L Ryan/Globe staff

An aerial view of Suffolk Downs.

Suffolk Downs would become the landlord, not the owner, of a $1 billion Mohegan Sun gambling resort under a new deal to bring a casino to the Revere side of the racetrack property.

The arrangement, announced Wednesday, marks a shift in roles for a racetrack partnership that has spent years in pursuit of casino development rights at the track.

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Under the deal, Mohegan Sun and its financial partner, Brigade Capital Management, a $15 billion New York investment firm, would develop and operate a resort casino on about 42 acres of track property within Revere’s city limits, said Mitchell Etess, chief executive of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority.

“Essentially, Brigade and Mohegan Sun will own the casino on land leased from Suffolk Downs,” Etess explained in a Globe interview. Mohegan Sun would also hold the casino license, in an arrangement similar to the one Mohegan had with landowners in Palmer, where voters Nov. 5 narrowly rejected the company’s casino project.

Mohegan Sun architects have spent the past several days designing a unique resort that will still be familiar to people who have visited the company’s flagship casino in Uncasville, Conn., Etess said. He promised “a national and international tourist attraction that people coming to the Boston area are going to want to check out.”

“We know how to build something that is appreciated by New Englanders,” Etess said. “Our intention is not to move Las Vegas or Uncasville to Revere, but to build something that is appropriate to the region.”

Mohegan Sun should have drawings and details to share with the public in one to two weeks, he said.

The Revere plan comes amid questions about whether the development will be permitted to compete for the Greater Boston resort casino license, after East Boston said no and Revere voters said yes to the track’s earlier casino project. At issue is whether Revere’s vote legally qualifies as an endorsement of a substantially different, Revere-only project.

The state gambling commission is scheduled to discuss the future of the bid on Tuesday.

Suffolk Downs did not make its principals available for interviews Wednesday and did not address ongoing questions about the viability of the bid in a statement confirming the deal with Mohegan Sun.

“This is a historic day for the City of Revere, Suffolk Downs and all of New England,” Richard Fields, principal owner of Suffolk Downs, said in the statement. “By choosing Mohegan Sun as our resort casino developer and operator, we bring new energy and excitement to our pursuit of a gaming license — and a leader and premier brand in resort casino gaming that has been hugely successful in New England for 17 years.”

Suffolk Downs originally had predicted its East Boston-Revere casino would generate $1 billion a year in gambling revenue, an enormous figure questioned by experts. Etess would not commit to the figure, although he said a Revere Mohegan Sun casino would be “a very successful property.”

“Is it a billion? Is it $800 million? I don’t know — it’s a very big number,” he said.

Mohegan and Suffolk Downs are both looking for second chances in the hunt for Massachusetts gambling riches. On the day Mohegan Sun lost its vote in Palmer, East Boston voters rejected the track’s original casino plans.

But Revere residents voted in favor of the development, and within hours after the votes were cast, track officials said they would explore shifting the proposal entirely into Revere, raising howls from Boston politicians and casino opponents.

No developer can compete for a license unless the residents of the host community endorse the project at a referendum. Whether Revere’s earlier vote can be applied to the new project will come down to an interpretation of the law — first by the state gambling commission and then perhaps by the courts. There is not enough time under state law and current commission deadlines for another vote.

Election law experts say the legal circumstances are unique.

“Each side has a little something to hang its hat on,” said George D. Brown, a professor at Boston College Law School.

Suffolk Downs officials cite the plain, spare language of the ballot question, which asks whether the city should allow a casino “at the Suffolk Downs property off of Winthrop Avenue,” in Revere.

But the Revere ballot also included a summary of the casino project, described as “located partially in the city and partially in East Boston.” Opponents say a “yes” vote on that original project cannot be applied to a substantially different development.

State Senator Stanley Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat and an architect of the 2011 Massachusetts casino law, said lawmakers insisted a summary be printed on the ballot to ensure that a casino referendum would be decided by educated voters.

“What the proposal is, what the facility is going to look like, and what the community’s compensation would be for any negative impacts — all of that info is given to the voters so they can consider it when they make a decision on how to vote,” Rosenberg said in a recent interview.

Revere’s mayor, Dan Rizzo, who backs the project, said he has received no complaints from residents about the city’s pursuit of a Revere-only casino.

“It’s counter-intuitive to think that Revere voters would vote differently because the casino is moving 1,000 feet down the road,” said Rizzo, in a Globe interview.

Mohegan Sun, Brigade and Suffolk Downs have all cleared state background checks.

If the project is allowed to go forward, Mohegan Sun would compete with a Wynn Resorts proposal in Everett for the area’s resort casino license.

Mark Arsenault can be reached at mark.arsenault@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bostonglobemark
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