Revere officials denounce plan for slots parlor
REVERE — Calling the project “Little League” compared with the resort-style casino they had supported for their city, Mayor Brian M. Arrigo and other city leaders on Wednesday launched an opposition campaign to a slots parlor near the Suffolk Downs racetrack.
City officials have — begrudgingly — scheduled a special election Oct. 18 for voters to consider the slots parlor proposal because the developer gathered enough signatures in an initiative petition process to warrant it. But Arrigo urged voters to reject the project when it comes before them, saying it was poorly written, poorly conceived, and failed to show real benefits for the community.
“This isn’t about being pro- or anti-gaming. It’s about good and bad ideas,” Arrigo said. “Look at the proponents’ shoddy proposal, look at their lack of a track record, and ask yourself if this meets the high standards that we have for our community.”
No elected official has so far backed the project introduced by international developer Eugene McCain, the mayor noted. Though McCain wants to build a facility with 1,250 slot machines in the area around Suffolk Downs, the track owners are not interested and a gambling license is not available under state law.
Another petition drive led by McCain seeks to change that state law. Question 1 on November election ballot will ask voters statewide whether Massachusetts should lift the limit on the number of casinos and allow another slots parlor license in a specific location. The 2011 gambling law that legalized casinos authorized only one slots parlor and three casinos in the state in separate geographic areas defined to avoid oversaturating the market.
“We got 83,000 signatures to get this petition on the statewide ballot. Clearly, there’s support for it,” said Jason Osborne, a consultant working with McCain’s campaign.
Osborne pushed back against the mayor’s assertion that McCain lacks experience. The campaign provided images from resorts and gated residential communities McCain developed in Hawaii and Thailand, where he previously lived.
McCain also believes that Revere voters support the project, citing a poll he conducted last spring. But his efforts are being opposed by elected officials, who are unwilling to even discuss the kind of “host community agreement” that other cities facing casino projects negotiate to wring benefits out of a development.
“The mayor has refused to meet with us to tell us any of his concerns face to face,” Osborne said.
The concept of a casino in Revere has already been thoroughly aired — and approved. Voters here twice approved of projects that would have turned the mostly defunct racetrack into a resort-style casino complex. But the plans were thwarted, first by voters in East Boston who rejected a proposal that spanned their border, and later by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which bypassed Revere in favor of a Wynn Resorts casino in neighboring Everett.
Many of the dozen city officials who joined Arrigo on the steps of City Hall to oppose McCain’s project Wednesday said they do not object to gambling on principle and that they supported the earlier plans for a casino at Suffolk Downs. But they said they want more for their city than a slots parlor and they suggested they could do better.
“Revere is poised for a renaissance,” said Senator Joseph A. Boncore, a Winthrop Democrat who also represents Revere. “With its proximity to Boston, its existing public transportation infrastructure, Revere is just ready to boom.”
State Representative RoseLee Vincent, a Revere Democrat, took issue with the specifics of McCain’s project and questioned the wisdom of tinkering with a new market that has yet to be tested. Since casinos were legalized, only a single slots parlor has opened, in Plainville, while the three casinos have yet to be built, she noted.
“I believe it’s irresponsible to meddle with the Gaming Act, especially when it’s so early in the game,” Vincent said. “To be 2 miles from a full-fledged casino is just a recipe for failure.”
The city had unsuccessfully sought a stay in court, hoping to delay the local referendum until voters statewide weigh in.
But the court declined, and a city election was scheduled. That raises the possibility that Revere voters will approve of the project, giving the developer momentum and a winning argument going into the statewide election.
Local officials groused that the developer is forcing them to fund a special election to test the popularity of his project, even though a slots project faces long odds of becoming a reality.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has no obligation to issue an additional casino license, even if the measure passes muster with state and local voters.
“There is no casino license available in Massachusetts and yet they’re going to cost the city of Revere $50,000-$70,000,” City Councilor John F. Powers said.
Denise Sao Pedro, a Revere resident who came to the announcement, said the developer should pay for the local election, which she called “presumptuous.”
“Isn’t that sort of putting the cart before the horse?” she said.