In the wake of a ‘no’ casino vote in East Boston last Tuesday – Suffolk Downs and the City of Revere are preparing to make an 11th hour pitch to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) for a scaled-down casino development located at the barn area entirely in Revere.
The plan by Suffolk brings up more hurdles and obstacles than in a steeplechase race, including the possibility of closing or moving the horse track and the clarification as to whether the vote in Revere actually qualifies.
The new Revere-only plan began to hit the public square before the final voting numbers had even been reported, with most people hearing and reacting in a confused manner as it was always predominately understood that the casino development was a joint effort and required a joint ‘yes’ vote.
However, Suffolk Downs COO Chip Tuttle said this week that he has always indicated that there could be an alternative if there were a ‘no’ vote in Eastie – though that alternative was never discussed in depth as they were planning for victory.
“The people were voting on a land use question, not on a specific project,” said Tuttle. “We’re very disappointed in the results in East Boston. I can think of three or four things we should have done better. Clearly, our 11th hour separation from Caesars didn’t help. We are trying to respect the vote in East Boston, which clearly killed the prior project. That project can’t move forward in East Boston. By the same token, we have a ‘yes’ in Revere by a wider margin than the loss in East Boston and a workforce here that deserves every opportunity from us.
“That may be frustrating to some; I get it,” he continued. “It was a possibility we were asked about on five or six occasions. Every time I tried to be consistent with that answer and I said that practically it would be very, very difficult to move ahead in one and not the other. Technically, I always said it was possible. We were planning for success. .”
Some Support, Some Don’t, Some on the Fence
Mayor Dan Rizzo said this week he is fully supporting the move to Revere and is in constant communication with Suffolk Down to help them meet the crucial Dec. 31 MGC application deadline.
“I am in constant communication with Suffolk Downs and our lawyers representing the City and their lawyers representing Suffolk Downs feel we do have a case in building a Revere-only casino,” he said. “As a result of that we have mutually agreed to open up the host community agreement to discuss new terms because with it all being in Revere…that would certainly mean a different set of terms with respect to jobs, local investments and a revenue stream.”
He said he has people in City Hall working on it already, and the City has advertised a public hearing this week for an omnibus zoning change to accommodate the Revere-only project. It will be held Dec. 2.
That said, not everyone in Revere’s corner is entirely happy with the course of events – including State Sen. Anthony Petruccelli, who has the unique task of representing both Revere and Eastie.
“While I have seen the media reports of Suffolk Downs seeking other development options, I do not believe there are any at this time,” said Petruccelli. “
House Speaker Bob DeLeo has said in initial reports that the whole plan sounds complicated. This week, though, he released a statement saying he’s putting it in the MGC’s hands.
“The future awarding of gaming licenses is entirely up to the Commission,” he said. “My deep concern, as always, lies with the creation and retention of jobs.”
In the Commission’s Hands
In the end, everyone agrees that the fate of the last-minute plan at Suffolk will depend upon the MGC.
MGC Chair Steve Crosby has only said so far that he will hear them out, though he has said in published reports that it sounds very difficult. He has also alluded that it would be a long shot.
However, in previous open meetings, such as a meeting on Oct. 29 addressing the Eastie/Revere referendum vote, Crosby alluded that a ‘no’ vote would put an end to the application.
“There will be another public hearing during the evaluation process if the vote is successful,” Crosby said at the hearing. “If it isn’t successful, it’s over. If it is successful there will be another public hearing where we will invite everybody to speak about the pending proposal.”
Said Tuttle, “In the end, all of this is in the Gaming Commission’s hands.”
Separation of Track and Casino
One of the persistent problems with the new plan is what to do with the horse track.
At one point, the casino was touted as being necessary to save the track. Now, it appears the track is going to have to be separated in some fashion to save the casino.
Just how that will happen is still up in the air.
Tuttle said there is a very good possibility that the track could close, or that it would operate as a separate entity with no common access points. He even said it could possibly be moved to another location. Under the current plan, the barns would certainly have to be moved. Tuttle said it certainly would be off-site, but they have no firm plans yet.
“Our plan was always for an integrated facility with racing and gaming,” he said. “That cannot happen now because of the vote. There has to be separation; there has to be church and state. They can’t be together. We hope to be able to keep the racetrack, but it can’t be part of our gaming development…We’re going to work to try to keep the track open, but the results of the vote in East Boston could make that hard. We don’t know yet (if we’ll close it)…We’ve got 350 people who work here and 400 to 500 in the barn areas and we’re trying to figure out how to preserve their jobs.”
One of two major roadblocks is the fact that the racetrack is considered an amenity to the development, and any amenity located in a city or town triggers the host community process. Eastie cannot be a host community. The track being an amenity worked in Revere’s favor early in the process and helped it be deemed a host community. However, now it appears to be getting in the way of the Revere-only development.
Tuttle said they had no clear answers as to how they would solve that.
“That’s something we’re working on right now,” he said.
Another roadblock lies within the gaming law – a stipulation that requires Suffolk to continue operating as a horse track in order to get a casino license.
“We need to find a way to continue racing, but not as part of the development,” he said. “We don’t necessarily have to race here. It says if you held a [racing] license in 2011 and are awarded a gaming license, you have to maintain that [racing] license. It doesn’t say where you have to race. We’re meeting with the (Horsemen) this week to discuss the new playing field.”
Staying With the Agreement and the Vote
There are more complications than can be reported in one story, but one thing that is on everyone’s mind is whether or not the Revere vote can stand given it’s wording and it’s mentioning of the current Host Community Agreement – which will be totally different.
Rizzo and Tuttle believe that the vote is still valid, even with a new project in a new area.
They argue that the vote was about a land use question and not about any specific project or design.
The wording of the question refers to the property at Suffolk Downs “off of Winthrop Avenue,” but doesn’t mention Revere or East Boston.
Critics argue that the question referred to the existing host community agreement – which included radically different commitments and also the continuation of horseracing.
They also point to the fact that the address and zip code for Suffolk Downs’s property is that of East Boston – not Revere.
Tuttle and Rizzo believe that they can negotiate an amended host community agreement without blowing up the one they have.
“We don’t think we have to have a new agreement,” Tuttle said. “Our HCA with Revere anticipates future development or expansion on the Revere side of the property…It anticipates that if and when there were expansion on the Revere property, we can open it up again. There should and will be substantially more in benefits for Revere under the new proposal. We think all that is possible under the current vote and our HCA.”
Neither would discuss what kinds of numbers were being talked about or whether the agreement would mimic Boston’s lucrative agreement.
Many Questions But a Willing Partner
Rizzo told the Journal this week that the City is doing whatever needs to be done to help Suffolk meet its critical deadline of Dec. 31.
“Obviously time is not our friend in this and we’re working hand in hand with Suffolk to make sure we meet all the deadlines required by the Gaming Commission,” he said.
Tuttle said they are ready to work with Revere if allowed by the state.
“It still has to be a first-class destination that attracts visitors from outside the area and is of a level of quality that is befitting of the cultural hub of the region,” he said. “We also need to engineer and design a project that works on the Revere parcel and that the City will welcome as a neighbor.”
One Man in Two Communities
State Sen. Anthony Petruccelli has the unique position of being between two communities this week, as he represents Revere and East Boston – where a rift is growing over the 11th hour Revere-only casino bid. This week, he said in a statement that he doesn’t appreciate the divisiveness coming out of Suffolk Downs on the issue. The statement reads as follows:
“On Tuesday, Nov. 5, I joined many voters in East Boston and Revere in voting ‘yes’ on whether or not there should be a resort casino development at Suffolk Downs. I did so because I believe the benefits of such a development far outweigh the impacts. The rules of engagement for this process were crystal clear. Voters in both communities needed to pass their own ballot question in order for the proposal to advance to the Gaming Commission. That did not happen.
As you know, I represent both the neighborhood of East Boston and the City of Revere so this is not the most desirable position for me to be in politically. However, the results are unambiguous. The proposed resort casino at Suffolk Downs is dead.
While I have seen the media reports of Suffolk Downs seeking other development options, I do not believe there are any at this time. The most recent proposal had to my knowledge every inch of development to be built in East Boston, and Revere was still a host community. If you remember, a year ago there was a question as to whether or not Revere was a host community, I publicly advocated very strongly that Revere needed to be considered a host community. If somehow Suffolk Downs were allowed to offer a new development proposal, I would expect that both communities would again be host communities. What’s fair is fair.
Furthermore, I am troubled by the rhetoric offered by the ownership of Suffolk Downs during the last week, as they are pitting two communities that I represent and love very much against each other.
I will not stand for that.
I am hopeful that the Gaming Commission will see the logic and the facts of this proposal. That is, if Suffolk Downs has a new proposal, there needs to be a new process. Anything less would bring into question the integrity of the Massachusetts Gaming Law and the whole process.”