Score one for Wynn Resorts in its battle with Sterling Suffolk Racecourse.
This rivalry was supposed to end in 2014 when the Massachusetts Gaming Commission awarded the prized Greater Boston casino license to Wynn’s Everett project over Sterling Suffolk’s plans for its Suffolk Downs racetrack with partner Mohegan Sun. Wynn won. Suffolk Downs lost. All settled, right?
Not a chance.
Sterling Suffolk sued Wynn in Boston federal court last year, accusing Wynn of acting as a criminal enterprise to obtain the license by corrupting the process. Sterling Suffolk said it was wronged to the tune of more than $1 billion. That’s billion, with a “b,” plus treble damages and legal fees.
A bold claim, to be sure. But it is one that won’t be answered in federal court after all. Judge Patti Saris dismissed the case on Friday, saying Sterling Suffolk didn’t make an adequate enough case for its RICO claims.
Perhaps Sterling Suffolk will pursue elements of the case in state court. But the charges related to the well-known federal antiracketeering law are out of the mix now.
The Saris decision marks just the latest twist in an ongoing saga of overlapping lawsuits filed by those who argue they were wronged by the licensing process that paved the way for Wynn’s Encore Boston Harbor casino to open in Everett this past June. Yes, some key cases are resolved — remember the city of Boston’s ill-fated lawsuit to block the Wynn casino? However, the remaining legal mess shows no sign of becoming untangled anytime soon.
Mohegan, Sterling Suffolk’s partner in the 2014 bid, sued the gaming commission over its decision, arguing the state agency tilted the scales in favor of Wynn and that its license should be taken away. Current status of the case? Still pending.
Former landowner FBT Everett Realty sued the commission, too, over the fact Wynn only paid $35 million for the property after regulators raised questions about two FBT associates with criminal backgrounds; the original Wynn deal with FBT was for $75 million. Still pending.
FBT sued its former law firm, Davis Malm & D’Agostine, claiming poor legal representation in that matter. Also still pending. Oh, and one former landowner, Anthony Gattineri, sued Wynn, claiming the Nevada company reneged on a side deal related to the land sale. That case is still quite active, too.
There are common themes being raised here, including whether the criminal past of two former partners should have disqualified FBT in the first place. The sexual misconduct claims against Wynn Resorts founder Steve Wynn that emerged last year have complicated matters further; Mohegan and Sterling Suffolk both argue separately that those allegations also hurt the company’s cause.
The gaming commission has drawn Wynn into its fight with FBT; Wynn’s request to be dismissed from that case was heard in Suffolk Superior Court on Monday.
A different motion to dismiss certainly worked for the company on Friday in federal court. Saris ruled that Sterling Suffolk failed to prove that Wynn has engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity, as opposed to a single discrete fraud scheme, a necessity of any RICO case.
Even though horse racing ended for good at Suffolk Downs this year, Sterling Suffolk hasn’t closed up shop. The company continues to operate a betting facility at the track property. It’s unclear whether that will continue on the site once the sprawling racetrack is redeveloped. The Sterling Suffolk partners — Joe O’Donnell, Richard Fields, and Vornado Realty Trust — are also trying to revive horse racing on the other end of the state, in Great Barrington. They’ll need legislative approval to do so; those efforts haven’t made it out of the gate yet.
A spokesman for Sterling Suffolk declined to comment about the judge’s decision, other than to say the company is weighing its options. The big question facing the partners: Take the vendetta against Wynn to state court, or just walk away?
Maybe Sterling Suffolk will decide it has paid its lawyers enough to wage this battle. If not, get prepared for more litigation.
Welcome to Massachusetts, where the casino lawsuits never seem to end.