Suffolk Downs, Revere set to reopen casino talks
Look to amend their deal
Mayor Dan Rizzo of Revere and officials from Suffolk Downs racetrack are set to reopen casino talks this week, seeking to amend an existing casino agreement to reflect a new plan to build a gambling resort entirely in Revere.
The talks are the surest sign to date that Suffolk Downs is committed to moving forward with a casino proposal, despite losing a casino referendum a week ago in adjacent East Boston. If built, the new casino would sharply increase the revenue that Revere had anticipated under the old plan.
“It’s obviously going to be a serious uptick from where we were,” Rizzo said. “There’s no question it’s going to be a much richer agreement for the city of Revere.”
Suffolk Downs will outline its plans to the state gambling commission in writing this week, said Chip Tuttle, the track’s chief operating officer.
“I’m not issuing 350 pink slips and telling the horsemen they can never come back before we have exhausted all of our options,” Tuttle said.
Suffolk Downs does not plan to ask the commission for relief from deadlines or any application requirements, he said.
Whether Suffolk Downs, which straddles the East Boston-Revere city line, will be able to compete for a casino license in Revere remains an open question, which may eventually have to be settled by a court. Original plans called for the resort to be built on the East Boston side of the 163-acre site. Spurned by Eastie voters, Suffolk Downs intends to shift the development to the other side of the property, putting it entirely within Revere city limits.
East Boston casino opponents are incensed by the move, which they say is plainly illegal, violating the state’s casino law.
“This is not some 100-year-old statute they are trying to interpret,” said Celeste Myers, a leader of the anti-casino group No Eastie Casino. “This law was written with Suffolk Downs in mind.”
The 2011 state casino law states: “If a proposed gaming establishment is situated in two or more cities or towns,” the applicant must negotiate a hosting deal with each community, “and receive a certified and binding vote on a ballot question at an election held in each host community in favor of such a license.”
State Representative Carlo P. Basile, an East Boston Democrat who strongly supported the original Suffolk Downs casino proposal, told the Globe Monday he would oppose the Revere-only plan.
“I’m going to stand by the vote,” Basile said. “The law was written specifically so that both communities had to say yes.”
Suffolk Downs takes a different view of the law, arguing that its new Revere-only proposal is in just one community. The developer says Revere voters backed the development on a straightforward land-use question.
“We have the enthusiastic embrace of a gaming development in Revere,” Tuttle said. Revere voters backed the casino last Tuesday, on the same day East Boston voters opposed it.
Work is underway with architects, engineers, and members of Rizzo’s administration to come up with a workable plan for a Revere-only resort at Suffolk Downs, Tuttle said.
Rizzo promised to do everything in his power to keep the casino plan alive, saying the potential benefits of a casino are far more important to Revere than to much larger Boston.
For Suffolk Downs, time is extremely short: The gambling commission has set a year-end deadline for casino resort developers to submit all plans and documents to complete their applications.
“Obviously, there is a lot of work to do,” said Tuttle.
In addition to redoing development plans years in the making, Suffolk Downs is working to sign a partnership deal with a casino operator to replace Caesars Entertainment, which was dropped from the project in October over concerns the gambling giant might fail its mandatory state background check. The concerns included a licensing deal with a hotel company partly owned by a businessman alleged to have ties to Russian mobsters.
Suffolk Downs has been in talks with Hard Rock International, which lost a referendum vote in West Springfield, and Rush Street Gaming, which pitched a Millbury slot parlor but withdrew because of a lack of community support. Rush Street has already passed its state background check. Hard Rock’s background investigation was nearly done when the company lost its vote.
Suffolk Downs wants to win the sole Greater Boston resort casino license. The other competitors are Wynn Resorts, which is planning an Everett casino, and Foxwoods, which is part of a casino proposal in Milford. Wynn’s background check is still underway; the commission has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday to discuss the completed investigation into Foxwoods.
Stephen Crosby, chairman of the gambling commission, said “nothing in our regulations makes this [Suffolk Downs] situation appropriate or inappropriate; this was not anticipated.”
Even if Suffolk Downs is permitted to submit plans drawn up in a matter of weeks, they would be competing with proposals developed over at least a year.
“Suffolk Downs is scrambling,” said former attorney general Scott Harshbarger, a casino opponent. “Doesn’t that make the other two applicants look so much better? If I’m the commission, am I picking the one that lost the vote?”