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Developer eyeing Revere trailer park for slots parlor

Developer, not Suffolk Downs, pitching Revere trailer park site

Marisela Ayala, holding grandson Liam, said she and her family have been renting a unit in Lee’s Trailer Park, within a few miles of Suffolk Downs, for the last three months.
Marisela Ayala, holding grandson Liam, said she and her family have been renting a unit in Lee’s Trailer Park, within a few miles of Suffolk Downs, for the last three months.(Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)

REVERE — To casino opponents, it had seemed obvious who was driving a proposed ballot initiative that would allow an additional slots parlor near a horse track in Massachusetts: Surely, the proponent must be Suffolk Downs, the sputtering racetrack that lost earlier bids for renewed relevance when its casino plans were dismissed.

But a Suffolk Downs official said unequivocally the track is not involved.

Instead, the man who is driving the campaign, Eugene McCain, has an agreement to buy the mobile-home property down the parkway from Suffolk Downs, according to an attorney for the current owner. It’s there, on the site of Lee’s Trailer Park, where he has proposed to build a slots parlor.

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McCain, a real estate broker and developer with ties to Massachusetts who now lives in Phuket, Thailand, said he has been involved with real estate deals in California and Hawaii. He and two associates approached Revere officials in July, said John Festa, the city’s economic development director.

The men initially proposed building a hotel — a proposal that interested the city, Festa said. It wasn’t until the following day that McCain raised the prospect of slot machines, he said.

“When McCain disclosed that the developers were also interested in a gaming development on the property, the city let them know that they were welcome to move forward with any credible hotel proposal, but that the city would NOT support gaming development at the site,” Festa said in a statement on the proposal.

In an e-mailed message, McCain said his plans are still in the exploratory stages, and Revere is just one of several locations he is considering for hotel and mixed-use development. However, there are only a handful of locations — mainly local fairgrounds — that would meet the criteria he laid out in his gambling petition.

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The ballot proposal would add a second slots casino license to the mix of three casinos and one slots parlor allowed by the state’s 2011 gaming law. The prospect of a second is still speculative, since McCain’s team would have a number of hurdles to clear.

First, they need to collect signatures from 64,750 registered voters to submit the petition initiative to the Legislature. Then, unless the Legislature adopts the measure on its own, they would have to collect signatures from another 10,792 voters to get it on the November 2016 ballot, where its approval by a majority of voters could make it law.

McCain’s slots proposal has opened up a new front for the fledgling casino industry in Massachusetts.

“If the commission were authorized to issue another slots license, we’d have to consider the full legal and legislative context, and would determine a process pursuant to that,” said Massachusetts Gaming Commission spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll. “It is not something we have ever contemplated.”

Developer Eugene McCain has an agreement to buy the mobile-home property down the parkway from Suffolk Downs.
Developer Eugene McCain has an agreement to buy the mobile-home property down the parkway from Suffolk Downs.(Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)

The emergence of a new casino proposal had everyone from lobbyists to horsemen buzzing. McCain, whose name is on the ballot petition, was not known among local people in the casino industry, and the people who signed his initial petition weren’t familiar names.

The language of the ballot petition — which would allow for another slots license on a site of least 4 acres adjacent to a horse race track — seemed tailor-written for Suffolk Downs, which had pursued a casino even after East Boston voters rejected a proposal in 2013.

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But chief operating officer Chip Tuttle categorically denied any involvement in the new venture.

“Not only is this not Suffolk Downs’ initiative, we were neither consulted nor advised, and we have no intention of supporting this measure in any way, shape, or form,” Tuttle told the Globe.

Representatives of two horsemen’s groups said they have their own plans to bring thoroughbred racing back to Massachusetts and are not working with McCain.

Still, McCain suggested a fondness for horse racing is at the heart of his proposal.

“This initiative is not only designed to safeguard thousands of jobs at tracks and farms across the Commonwealth but to also bring in new economic activity to local communities and the state,” he wrote. “Thoroughbred races have a long and storied history here in Massachusetts — one that began with the opening of Suffolk Downs in East Boston in 1935.”

Casino opponents, while weary of the continued rounds, say they are ready for another battle.

“It’s kind of audacious that Mr. McCain thinks he can best the local residents and take another bite at it when the Gaming Commission didn’t see fit to grant the license to Suffolk Downs,” said Celeste Riebeiro Myers, spokeswoman for No Eastie Casino.

The Revere property that McCain is eyeing is a park with about 90 rented and privately owned mobile homes off Revere Beach Parkway. Joseph V. Cattoggio Jr., an attorney who represents the owner, confirmed that a group led by McCain has an option to buy the property that, according to Revere officials, expires in two months. He would not discuss the contingencies, and said the owner, William Settipane, was unaware of any casino proposal.

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Settipane bought the trailer park in 2009 for $1.9 million, according to city assessor records. Two years ago, amid a flurry of plans for casinos and proposals for development around Suffolk Downs, he won a zoning change that would allow expanding the park’s potential uses beyond residential.

On Friday, some mobile home tenants were startled by the prospect of a casino moving in. The trailer park was the site of a murder in 2013, but some residents said, despite crime, it was still home.

“It’s keeping me and my daughter one step above homelessness,” said one tenant, who would not give her name. “We pretty much all want the park to be here.”

Anthony Wallace, who has lived in a double-wide trailer in the park for seven years, was skeptical of the proposal’s success.

“They’ve been talking about selling this place for years,” he said.


Andrea Estes can be reached at Andrea.Estes@globe.com. Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@ globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert.