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Revere

Residents to vote on casino plan for Suffolk Downs

Revere voters will go to the polls Tuesday to decide whether to endorse a referendum that calls for a casino to be built at Suffolk Downs, located in both Revere and East Boston.

In a city that needs increased revenue and is no stranger to gambling — Suffolk Downs still operates as a horse track and Wonderland held dog races for decades in Revere until closing in 2010 — many see a casino as a way to change the city.

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“I feel this referendum is transformational,” Mayor Dan Rizzo said late last week as he continued to lobby voters to endorse the plan. “If the city votes for this project, it will elevate the city of Revere to what I would call a world-class city. We will be able to do things that we would never otherwise have been able to do, given our current financial situation.”

The future of a casino at Suffolks Downs is far from certain. For the project to go forward, voters in both Revere and East Boston would have to approve it Tuesday.

Suffolk Downs is one of three applicants seeking the sole Greater Boston casino license. Its competitors are Wynn Resorts, which has proposed a waterfront casino in Everett, and a Foxwoods project in Milford.

In June, 86 percent of Everett voters approved a referendum to allow a casino to be built on a former chemical factory site in the city. Milford residents will vote on a casino referendum Nov. 19.

Since Revere signed a Community Host Agreement with Suffolk Downs in September, Rizzo has held several informational meetings on the agreement and the referendum. If Suffolk Downs is awarded a casino license, the city will receive about $15 million from the casino each year.

The agreement also calls for at least 250 temporary construction jobs and 400 permanent jobs to go to Revere residents. In addition, it calls for the casino to spend $7.5 million annually with Revere businesses.

“There’s going to be 4,000 full-time jobs created at full build-out and that means hundreds of jobs for Revere residents, and coming out of this recession I don’t think there’s anybody out there that’s not concentrating or focusing on job creation,” said Rizzo.

“I’m 1,000 percent for it. It’s going to be good for the city,” added Revere City Council president Ira Novoselsky, who believes the new revenue would help improve Revere’s infrastructure, such as repairing sidewalks and roads.

Rizzo said the city would use portions of the annual $15 million casino revenue to build a new Department of Public Works building, repair its library, and spend $4 million to replace water meters throughout the city.

But in recent weeks, some voters have begun to question what kind of casino would be built and operated at Suffolk Downs.

Since Suffolk Downs unveiled its $1 billion resort casino proposal in June 2012, it had told residents that Caesars Entertainment would be the casino operator.

But last month, Suffolk Downs said it had asked Caesars to withdraw after it learned that state investigators planned to recommend that Caesars be disqualified from bidding for the license.

In October, the Globe reported that investigators for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission — which oversees the casino licensing — had linked a Caesars licensing deal to a hotelier who allegedly had ties to Russian mobsters.

Michael Sangalang, spokesman for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, said the commission is in the process of conducting background checks for the Wynn and Foxwoods applications.

Caesars was not Suffolk Downs’ first setback: One of its principal owners, Vornado Realty Trust, divested its 19.9 percent of the track in March because executives were unwilling to submit to the background checks required of all casino license applicants.

Chip Tuttle, the chief operating officer at Suffolk Downs, downplayed Caesars’ departure and said his organization planned to name a new casino operator by the end of the year. He said Suffolk Downs would stand by its proposed plan to build a $1 billion resort casino.

“Whoever our next gaming management partner may be, we have complete confidence in our ability to design, finance, and construct a world-class resort here,” said Tuttle.

Still, the lack of a casino operator bothers some residents, including Revere City Councilor Brian M. Arrigo.

“There are people telling us this is not a big deal. But it is a big deal, and to ask people to vote blindly is not what the people deserve in this situation,” said Arrigo. “If we are going to vote for it we should have all of the cards on the table. We should understand every detail of it.”

These days, green signs that encourage residents to “Vote Yes for Suffolk Downs” can be found on lawns along Revere Beach and in some storefronts on Broadway. But those signs were printed months ago, and still feature Caesars Entertainment and its logo prominently next to Suffolk Downs.

While Suffolk Downs has taken the lead in promoting the casino in the city, a smaller, grass-roots anticasino campaign has featured homemade “No Casino” signs.

At the Good Diner on Broadway, owner Saber Abougalala explained why he put green signs in his window endorsing the casino. For Abougalala, the vote comes down to adding jobs and millions of dollars to the city’s coffers.

“Everyone needs to have a job and go to work,” he said.

Steven A. Rosenberg can be reached at srosenberg@globe .com. Follow him on Twitter @WriteRosenberg.
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