In the Great Casino Race, one part of the state was left behind: Southeastern Massachusetts.
That might be about to change. A Quincy developer is promoting an ambitious plan for Wareham to build a new horse track along with a hotel and entertainment complex with slot machines.
Tom O’Connell, a top executive at Marina Bay and the Granite Links golf club in Quincy, will host dual press conferences to unveil his concept on Tuesday, at Granite Links in the morning and then in Wareham in the afternoon. The project has been rumored for weeks, as O’Connell quietly worked behind the scenes to build support.
Many of the details for Wareham Park remain unclear. But one source familiar with O’Connell’s plans says the Notos Group, the firm created for this development, would invest $300 million in the project, at a 275-acre parcel on Glen Charlie Road just north of Route 25.
Why is it ambitious? First off, we’re talking about a brand new racetrack, a rarity. It’s been a long-waning industry. Thoroughbred racing ended in Massachusetts at Suffolk Downs this summer. However, the track’s former operators are trying to revive thoroughbred racing on the other side of the state, at the Great Barrington Fairgrounds.
Then there’s all the competition. Yes, Southeastern Massachusetts, dubbed “Region C,” still doesn’t have a casino. The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has been stymied so far in an effort to build in Taunton, and the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe is duking it out with town officials over a project on Martha’s Vineyard. But Twin River opened up a casino last year, just over the state line in Tiverton, R.I., and also operates one in Lincoln, R.I. Plus, the Plainridge Park slots parlor, isn’t far from Wareham, a 40-ish mile drive up Interstate 495.
Perhaps the most ambitious part of this plan, though, involves Beacon Hill. Notos will need the Legislature’s permission for its project, and lawmakers have not been eager in the past to open up the 2011 law that established the state’s current casino market.
That law carved up the state into three sections for resort casino licenses: Greater Boston/Central Massachusetts (Region A), Western Massachusetts (Region B), and Region C. Wynn Resorts opened Encore Boston Harbor in Everett in June, and MGM opened last year in Springfield. Region C remains an open question.
Plainridge Park, a harness-racing track, won the fourth license set aside for a smaller slots parlor, one without table games.
The catch: A resort casino license requires a $500 million investment, more than Notos plans to spend. So Notos will need the Legislature to allow a Region C complex to accommodate a slots-only license instead, presumably scaling back the mandatory threshold. (The minimum capital investment for the slots license that went to Plainridge? $125 million.)
The Notos proposal comes as the Massachusetts Gaming Commission prepares to revive discussions about the Region C license next month. Notos has already provided informational briefings to commission members.
Notos faces competition for the Region C slot.
Chicago casino mogul Neil Bluhm is still pushing a venture for the Brockton Fairgrounds. The commission rejected the concept in 2016, but Bluhm has asked for reconsideration. A spokesman for Bluhm’s Brockton venture said the developer looks forward to making its case next month, and that “Brockton and the rest of Region C” have waited since 2011 for the economic development and jobs that have gone to Springfield and Everett.
Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer of Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, says the Notos proposal won’t change his group’s plans to pursue legislation that would allow the refurbishment of the Great Barrington racetrack and continued simulcasting in Suffolk County. Tuttle says his team is generally supportive of efforts to preserve thoroughbred racing, and notes that Suffolk Downs and the former Rockingham Park track in New Hampshire intentionally didn’t overlap thoroughbred race dates for about a decade, starting in the early 1990s.
The O’Connell family’s work has left a legacy on the South Shore with the Marina Bay community arising in the 1980s, Granite Links opening in the early 2000s, and restaurants in Hingham and Hull opening more recently. The construction continues: Peter O’Connell, Tom’s father, is developing what would be Quincy’s tallest tower, a 15-story apartment building going up in Quincy Center. Whether that family’s legacy can be extended to the gambling industry remains to be seen.