The Suffolk Downs casino proposal is looking a lot like the emperor who wore no clothes.
The racetrack was once seen as a shoo-in for a casino license. But after background check problems, Caesars Entertainment is gone, leaving a casino proposal without a casino operator. Vornado Realty, one of the biggest investors, put its interest into a blind trust rather than undergo a background check. In their suitability assessment, state regulators also expressed worries about the financial stability of Richard Fields, Suffolk’s largest shareholder.
Minus Caesars, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission just pronounced Suffolk Downs suitable for a casino. But the current proposal is a drastically stripped-down version of its original self, leaving its backers as naked as the sovereign in the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. Unlike the emperor, they already know they are walking around in their birthday suits. They’re just hoping East Boston voters are too uninformed or too desperate for jobs to see that when they vote on Nov. 5.
Everything about this proposal was built around Caesars, the corporate culture it represents, and the promises it made to Bostonians in general and to East Bostonians in particular. The ballot question summary describes Caesars as the operator. The host agreement between the city and Sterling Suffolk Racecourse specifically references “Caesars Massachusetts Management” and cites “the Caesars standard” as the basis for the agreement.
There’s a clause in the Boston host agreement that authorizes transfers of interest, as long as the city approves. And it’s possible that a new casino operator will build exactly what Caesars promised and sign off on every condition set forth in the host agreement. But do you really want to roll the dice on that, if you’re an East Boston resident contemplating the impact of a casino on traffic, crime, and your property values?
Why even trust the judgment of the remaining Suffolk Downs partners? They contend they were “blindsided” by disclosures that Caesars — their partner for two years — faced serious questions from state investigators. The partnership that owns the track “relied on Caesars contractual obligation to keep us informed,” track lawyer Bruce E. Falby told the state gambling commission. “These obligations were not met.” Caesars representatives say they were blindsided, too.
That hardly inspires confidence in this crew’s ability to spot trouble up front or hold themselves to the highest standard — or in Mayor Menino’s oversight up to now.
The mayor has long championed Suffolk Downs and is still promoting it. Martin J. Walsh and John R. Connolly, the mayoral candidates vying to succeed him, still support a casino if East Boston wants it. During Tuesday night’s debate, Walsh said he would vote “yes” if he lived in Eastie — at least earning points for taking a stand. Connolly wouldn’t say how he would vote as an Eastie resident, although he did answer “probably not” when asked if he would support a casino in his own neighborhood.
The mayor and his would-be successors are unwilling to state the truth: Without Caesars, a “yes” vote isn’t a vote for a specific plan. It’s a vote for a mirage. Their starting premise is that East Boston with a casino run by a mystery operator is better than East Boston without a casino.
As for the Suffolk Downs team, they want voters to believe the severed partnership with Caesars means nothing more than eliminating the laurel-wreath logo associated with the brand. Their glossy new information package eliminates all references to what they once proudly touted — the Caesars standard.
As voters confront this Suffolk Downs fairy tale, the one about the emperor reverberates.
Swindlers told the emperor they could make him a suit out of the most beautiful cloth, which only stupid people could not see. And so, the emperor walked through town in these garments, with everyone exclaiming how beautiful they were because they did not want anyone to call them dumb.
Then a child called out, “But he has nothing on” — just like the Suffolk Downs casino proposal.Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.