The owners of Suffolk Downs told state gambling regulators last month that they would close the last thoroughbred racetrack in New England if it in any way threatened to derail a proposed Mohegan Sun casino on racetrack land in Revere.
“If, by continuing to race, Suffolk Downs would invalidate or jeopardize Mohegan Sun’s application or gaming license, we would not do it,” wrote Charles A. Baker, the track’s secretary, in an April 30 letter to the state gambling commission. “We would not let racing or any other activity on the remainder of Suffolk Downs’ land get in the way of a successful gaming establishment . . . in Revere.”
Baker’s comments to state regulators appeared to undercut the track’s longstanding argument that building a casino at the track was the only way to stave off its closure. They came after a lawyer for the gambling commission told track officials that commissioners wanted to know more about a provision in the lease between Suffolk Downs and Mohegan Sun that gave track owners the option of having Mohegan Sun operate the racetrack.
City of Boston officials had flagged the provision as evidence that the track, most of which lies in East Boston, was so intertwined with the casino that the city is a “host community.” If Boston is considered a host community, it would have more power over the project, including the right to kill it with a binding vote in East Boston.
A few days after Baker received the call from the commission lawyer, Suffolk Downs deleted the provision. In the letter, which was sent to gambling commission general counsel Catherine Blue, Baker said the wording was removed and had “no further force and effect.”
Days later, with the provision deleted, the commission voted to deny Boston host status. City officials are still considering whether to file suit.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston criticized the commission Wednesday for allegedly helping Suffolk Downs weaken Boston’s case by flagging the questions over the racetrack management provision.
“This is a clear example of the commission demonstrating a predisposition to deny the obvious — that Boston deserves the status of a host community and the voters have an absolute right to vote,” Walsh said in a statement.
Boston officials argue that this is the second time the commission has inappropriately helped applicants eliminate potential problems. They also complained that the commission stepped in to help Wynn Resorts redo its property deal in Everett, after investigators raised the possibility that secret investors with criminal records may have undisclosed interests in the property.
“Were we to choose to file a lawsuit, this action clearly increases the likelihood of our success,” Walsh said. He has not yet said if the city will sue.
For months, track officials have been saying they would maintain racing for at least 15 years if Mohegan Sun wins the sweepstakes for the Greater Boston resort casino license, over a rival project by Wynn Resorts in Everett.
Track officials stood by that declaration Wednesday. “Suffolk Downs has never wavered in our commitment to keeping the track open as long as gaming is licensed on our property,” said Chip Tuttle, the track’s chief operating officer, in a statement.
An East Boston anticasino group is also raising questions about the call between the commission’s staff and Suffolk Downs, among other issues. Leaders of No Eastie Casino are asking for investigations by the inspector general and secretary of state into whether the regulators “colluded” with officials at Suffolk Downs to undermine the City of Boston’s attempt to win the right for its citizens to vote on the casino proposal on racetrack property.
In a letter to Inspector General Glenn Cunha and Secretary of State William F. Galvin, the group alleged that the call on the racetrack provision “was made with the specific intent of precluding the city of Boston’s claim to host community status for the gaming establishment currently proposed at Suffolk Downs.”
The commission’s spokeswoman, Elaine Driscoll, said the commission’s lawyer called representatives of Suffolk Downs to highlight items about which the commission would be looking for more information, including the racetrack provision. “At no time did the commission or its staff request the removal of that provision,” Driscoll said. “They [Suffolk Downs] voluntarily sought to remove that provision.”