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To carry the state, slots parlor developer seeks local support

Revere Mayor Brian M. Arrigo.
Revere Mayor Brian M. Arrigo.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe staff/Globe Staff

REVERE — The international developer seeking to bring a slots parlor to Revere has launched an aggressive campaign to win statewide approval for the plan in November’s election. At its core is a push to build momentum in this working-class city, where dreams of landing a casino have gone unfulfilled.

In a surprise victory, Eugene McCain successfully steered a petition to build the state’s second slot parlor near Suffolk Downs onto the fall ballot. Now, McCain and his supporters are calling for an election in Revere before the statewide vote, a strategic maneuver that has united many Revere officials in opposition.

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“I assume he wants to use it as a rallying cry in the statewide campaign,” said Revere Mayor Brian M. Arrigo. “These are outside forces attempting to push their agenda at the expense of the city.”

In a recent interview, Arrigo said he will fight the latest proposal to bring gambling to Revere, describing it as “the wrong plan at the wrong time.” He also hopes to deny McCain a local victory that could serve as a springboard to statewide success.

Peter Ubertaccio, a Stonehill College political scientist, said McCain is pursuing “a very smart strategy” in seeking to hold a local election before the statewide one. Slot parlor supporters could feature a victory in Revere in its statewide campaign, he said.

“The point they will make is that, if Revere wants a slots parlor, why should voters outside the city deny them,” Ubertaccio said. “Voters can say, ‘Hey, it’s not in my town.’ ”

Some 4,800 registered voters in Revere signed a petition calling for a local election to be held no later than Oct. 26, and Superior Court Judge Peter M. Lauriat last month denied the city’s request to postpone the local election.

But Arrigo has vowed to continue his legal fight, saying the election would cost the city $50,000 and would be moot if voters statewide reject the plan on Nov. 8.

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Some city leaders say they feel steamrolled by McCain’s yearlong attempt to win a lucrative gambling license.

“I feel like we have been pushed into a corner,” said John F. Powers, a city councilor who opposes the slots parlor. “And I don’t like the way they are going about it.”

Revere’s City Council is expected to discuss the matter Monday.

McCain declined an interview request. But supporters of the slots parlor criticized Arrigo’s action as an attempt to “gag the citizenry and prevent their right to petition the government.”

“It is of grave concern as to why Mayor Arrigo would independently initiate a suit against the citizenry and maneuver to prevent a project that could provide good paying jobs with benefits and create much needed tax revenue,”the group said.

The group said a poll conducted on its behalf showed that 66 percent of Revere voters voiced strong approval for the slots parlor.

Even if voters approve the slot parlor, there is no guarantee it will receive a license. Stephen P. Crosby, chairman of the state’s Gaming Commission, has expressed doubts about McCain’s plan, recently telling a Globe columnist: “To change in any fundamental way the basic competitive environment that our licensees, the casino operators, have bought into during their license period, would not be fair. It would be prejudicial.”

Crosby declined to comment for this article.

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To many observers, it came as a surprise last year when the attorney general’s office approved McCain’s ballot question, which calls for issuing an additional slots license to a gambling establishment at least 4 acres large and within 1,500 feet of an adjacent horse racing track.

The language seemed tailored for property McCain has agreed to buy in Revere, in the shadow of the Suffolk Downs racetrack. McCain’s team collected more than 75,000 signatures to get on the statewide ballot, then turned its attention to Revere.

In 2014, 63 percent of Revere voters backed a casino proposal on the Revere side of Suffolk Downs, only to see the plan lose out to a rival bid in Everett.

The owners of Suffolk Downs say they are no longer interested in developing the 42-acre site for gambling. Revere is also home to Wonderland Park, a dog track shut down after voters approved a statewide ballot question banning dog racing in 2008.

Arrigo has dismissed McCain as a “fly-by-night” businessman, and panned his proposal as “laughable in its lack of details.” The city should reserve its developable sites for corporate headquarters, hotels, and other high-end developments, he said. “We are playing for a higher standard,” he added.

McCain and his supporters, through a political fund-raising group called the Horse Racing Jobs and Education Committee, have spent about $285,000 on the slots campaign as of February, the date of the most recently filed campaign spending report.

By the time voters go to the polls in November, the group will likely have spent far more, Ubertaccio said. But it’s money well spent, he added.

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“If you win, the rewards are so great,” he said.


Sean P. Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphy-boston.