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Adrian Walker

Suffolk Downs casino proposal not dead yet

The hallway of the giant convention center in South Boston was the scene of a friendly takeover Tuesday.

Half the prominent lobbyists in town had descended on the center, the site of a meeting of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. The panel’s mission was to decide whether Suffolk Downs, newly partnered with Mohegan Sun, would be permitted to move forward with its plan to apply for a casino license in Revere.

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You may remember Suffolk Downs’ casino plan from its earlier incarnation. Just a month ago, it was slated to be built in East Boston, at the racetrack, with a piece of the development stretching over the line into Revere.

Both communities had to vote on whether to approve the casino. Revere voted heavily in favor of the casino; East Boston voted heavily against it.

Undeterred, the Suffolk Downs people immediately announced that they would simply move the entire project to Revere. Just move the project 1,000 feet, and it would be as if that pesky East Boston vote had never happened. At that point, Mohegan Sun was not involved in the deal.

Boiled down to its essentials, the proposal has two issues the commission needs to sort out before it can move forward. The first is whether it’s acceptable to revamp your plans (by moving it next door) after your casino has already been voted on and lost. The second is whether the plan now on the table was, in fact, the one Revere approved or whether it has been overhauled beyond recognition.

On the first question, a majority of the five-member commission clearly signaled that the Suffolk Downs group has every right to continue to compete for a license. The fact that one community voted in its favor, in their view, gave them that right.

The second question — whether Revere’s approval of the plan should still be honored, given the change in site and operator —is the thornier one. A Revere voter would have needed clairvoyance to know that they were voting for a Suffolk Downs-Mohegan Sun partnership, because they weren’t partners when the Nov. 5. vote occurred.

But fear not: Clairvoyance was in the room Tuesday, in the person of Gaming Commission chairman Steve Crosby. He made the breathtaking declaration that he knows exactly how people in Revere would have voted.

“What they voted on is clearly not what’s on the table now,” Crosby conceded. “But what they didn’t know wouldn’t have changed their vote.”

And how could Crosby know this?

He said it was a “reasonable deduction . . . that the Suffolk proposal would have been endorsed.” Who needs referendums when you have Steve Crosby?

Commissioner James McHugh was a voice in the wilderness. He urged his fellow commissioners to slow down and even raised the revolutionary idea of a second vote in Revere. He suggested that the commission was poised to “substitute our will for the will of the voters.” In that, he was entirely correct. But he was also clearly in the minority.

In the end, the commission put off a vote until its next meeting, probably next week. But commissioners left little doubt that Suffolk Downs/Mohegan Sun is going to get to continue to play. Ultimately, they will be left competing against Wynn Enterprises, which prevailed in a casino vote in Everett, for the sole Eastern Massachusetts license.

This is a surprising turn of events, considering that the November vote in Eastie was widely presumed to have killed the idea of a casino in the area. Indeed, casino opponents complain bitterly that they were never told they had to prevail in both cities to preserve East Boston. The idea that the casino they beat could simply be built down the street never occurred to them.

They were outspent and outgunned and still won at the ballot box. But the side with all the money seldom suffers permanent defeats in Massachusetts politics. For them, there’s always another venue to make their case.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com.
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