A day after East Boston voters defeated a proposed Suffolk Downs casino, public officials were flummoxed over how the track could overcome significant legal and logistical challenges to pursue a casino built entirely within neighboring Revere.
Suffolk Downs began floating that proposition Tuesday night, even as the votes were being tallied.
“I don’t know if there is a way to make it go,” said Stephen Crosby, chairman of the state gambling commission. “It’s clearly going to be complicated, at best. All I’m saying is we will entertain whatever proposal they might come up with.”
Prominent politicians treaded lightly around the topic on Wednesday, sensitive to the strong message from East Boston that the neighborhood opposes a casino at Suffolk Downs. The proposed casino complex — which would have been built in East Boston, with the adjoining racetrack straddling the border with Revere — was strongly supported in Revere.
Martin J. Walsh, Boston’s mayor-elect, said he first heard of the plan to build the casino solely within Revere from a news report Tuesday night. “I really haven’t had a chance to sit down and talk about it,” he told reporters Wednesday. “I don’t know if they have logistical problems.”
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, a longtime supporter of casino gambling at Suffolk Downs, was equally perplexed. “At this point, I don’t know,” he told reporters Wednesday. “I’m not sure about the feasibility of that.”
In addition to the surprising no vote from East Boston on Tuesday, a prominent casino project also failed in Western Massachusetts, where Palmer voters narrowly defeated a proposal from Mohegan Sun. The casino company is seeking a recount.
With the two losses this week, troubles continued to mount for casino applicants in Massachusetts.
Only five of the 11 original commercial casino and slot machine parlor applicants have won referendums: Wynn Resorts in Everett; MGM in Springfield; Penn National Gaming in Plainville; Cordish Cos. in Leominster; and Raynham Park in Raynham.
Five other applicants have struck out, including the two on Tuesday. Hard Rock International lost a vote in West Springfield; Rush Street Gaming abandoned a Millbury slot parlor project due to a lack of public support; and Ourway Realty was disqualified by the gambling commission after disclosure that a key employee had taken more than $1 million from the money room at Plainridge Racecourse.
The commission showed flexibility by allowing Penn National to replace Ourway as the proponent of a slot parlor at Plainridge, a precedent Suffolk Downs supporters cited in defending the track’s interest in continuing its bid in Revere.
One of the original applicants has not yet faced voters: Milford residents will decide on a Foxwoods casino referendum Nov. 19.
The defeat of the Palmer project Tuesday leaves only MGM in Springfield in contention for the Western Massachusetts resort casino license. In the competition for the Greater Boston license, Wynn and Foxwoods — at the moment, the only two remaining applicants — have not yet passed the mandatory state background checks. Competition for the third resort license, in Southeastern Massachusetts, is on a delayed schedule and so far has just one applicant.
The three applicants for the sole slot parlor license authorized by state law have all won approval of their host communities and have passed background checks.
Suffolk Downs was the one casino project in the state that straddled a border and thus had two host communities. The proposal — which included two hotels, restaurants, shops, a spa, and other amenities — needed to pass referendums in both East Boston and Revere to move forward.
When East Boston rejected the $1 billion plan, by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent, Revere’s mayor, Daniel Rizzo, asked Suffolk Downs to explore shifting the project entirely into Revere.
Key track officials declined interview requests Wednesday. Suffolk Downs chief operating officer Chip Tuttle issued a brief statement saying that track officials respect the vote in East Boston.
“We will also work to honor the clear affirmation of our vision for development that creates economic benefits by the voters of Revere and our duty to our family of workers and horsemen to explore options in Revere,” he said.
About 52 acres of the roughly 163-acre racetrack property are in Revere. It is unclear whether Suffolk Downs could create a new design for the smaller parcel in time to meet a Dec. 31 state deadline for resort casino applicants to submit all remaining documents for their applications. The state gambling commission is reluctant to extend deadlines, in fairness to other developers that have met them, said Crosby.
“We’ll listen to anything but I guess that would be a tough case,” he said.
Suffolk Downs also controls the former Wonderland racetrack, which is entirely in Revere and may offer another location for a Revere-only casino.
But that would also raise a host of questions: Would Suffolk Downs have to negotiate and sign a new casino agreement with Revere? Would there have to be another election? Would the commission lift its deadline to accommodate a campaign and a vote?
The commission needs to see a specific plan before it could answer any of the questions, said Crosby.
Casino opponents who led Suffolk Downs’ defeat on Wednesday blasted the track’s “wealthy owners and investors” for “mobilizing to find a way around the voice of the people and Massachusetts gambling law.”
“It is clear upon review of the statute that the casino referendum needed to pass in both East Boston and Revere in order for the developers to move forward,” the Suffolk Downs opposition group, No Eastie Casino, said in a statement.
The group called for Boston officials “to take East Boston’s resounding no for an answer on the casino question,” and to protect the neighborhood from casinos in other communities.