A Revere-only Suffolk Downs casino had been contemplated by developers before that became the only option for the site and would require the horse track in East Boston move its stables, Suffolk Chief Operating Officer Chip Tuttle told the Massachusetts Gaming Commission Thursday.
Suffolk Downs was dealt a split decision on Nov. 5, when voters in East Boston rejected the proposal, and voters in Revere approved the plan, creating a complication for the commission to untangle.
“I think it’s safe to say that nobody quite anticipated what’s happening in Boston, Revere and with the Suffolk Downs applicant,” Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby said ahead of a hearing at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. He said, “This is a 51-49 question at best…. I think we have to do a lot of real hard looking.”
Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo, who raised the potential of developing a casino only on the Revere side of the property on election night, said the host community agreement Revere voters approved by more than 60 percent anticipated the potential that the casino would be confined within city lines, allowing for renegotiations to expand what had been planned in Revere.
“It does not mention East Boston or tie the Revere vote to a successful vote in East Boston. That was not by accident,” said Rizzo. He said, “Many have noted that a Revere-only casino was not the project that was promoted by Suffolk Downs before the election. I do not dispute that, but it is true that Chip Tuttle did recognize before the election the possibility of proceeding only in one community.”
Rizzo said even before the election he had hoped that more of the facility would be built in Revere, which contains part of the race track, the horse barns and parking for the track, which first opened in the 1930s.
Deemed an early front-runner in the hunt for the lone casino license in the eastern part of the state, Suffolk Downs has faced eleventh-hour complications, dropping its casino operator, Caesars Entertainment, after learning of a critical report from background investigators.
“I’m inclined to believe that this is a last-ditch effort by folks who have spent a lot of money,” said Celeste Myers, of No Eastie Casino, who said that if her group knew about the possibility of a Revere-only casino, they could have “energized” the anti-casino movement in Revere, as they did in East Boston.
Tuttle claimed he made the possibility clear in response to a question from No Eastie Casino at a Sept. 9 forum that was recorded and is on Suffolk’s website.
Matt Cameron, a volunteer attorney for No Eastie Casino, said that the proposition to voters had consistently been for one casino straddling the city lines, and contended that the track in East Boston is an “essential part” of the casino proposal.
Cameron said in the lead-up to the vote, casino opponents thought they were playing chess, where the pieces are clearly visible, and discovered afterwards when the casino proponents revealed their contingency plans that they were playing poker.
“The agreement accommodates the exact situation that resulted from the Nov. 5 election,” said Brian Falk, an attorney for Revere.
While Crosby said he believed the potential Revere-only plan had been written into the host community agreement, Commissioner James McHugh discounted what the negotiators “had in the back of their minds” and said the commission would need to investigate both ballot summaries.
After the meeting, Tuttle told reporters it has yet to be determined how the developers would split the parcel of land.
“Right now we have one parcel of land, 161 acres,” Tuttle said, noting the divide between casino and track would have to be “church and state” but said they wouldn’t “have to put the Berlin Wall up.”
Since Milford voters decidedly rejected a proposed Foxwoods casino on Tuesday, casino mogul Steve Wynn’s plans to build a casino resort along the Mystic River in Everett could emerge as the only contender in the east if the commission rejects the Revere-only option.
“We have the ability to negotiate even if there’s one,” Crosby told reporters, asserting that there would be no need to re-launch the application process in a region if there is one “good applicant.”
Wynn is tentatively scheduled for a suitability determination on Dec. 16.
The split vote has divided lawmakers previously aligned in favor of a casino. Sen. Anthony Petruccelli, of East Boston, has argued the Revere-only proposal “undermines the spirit and intent” of the law; Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstein, of Revere, said she supports the Revere-only proposal, which she said is “viable.”
In a Nov. 20 letter to Crosby, Petruccelli quoted from the 2011 casino law to support his conclusion. “Because one host community voted in the negative, the Project proposed for Suffolk Downs is dead,” the senator wrote. Petruccelli also wrote that it was “false to argue that an alternative development plan on the Revere parcel is anything but a new proposal, which would require a new host community agreement and referendum . . .”
Rizzo has argued to the commission Revere voters should not have to take another vote to approve the project. In a letter, Rizzo said the question put to voters Nov. 5 asked whether they would support a gaming establishment on Suffolk Downs property off Winthrop Avenue and said the host community agreement with Revere was published on the back of every ballot and clearly stated the agreement would be reopened if the project moved across the East Boston border into Revere.
"As a result, Suffolk Downs may proceed with a new version of its project without having to ask Revere citizens to approve it a second time," Rizzo wrote.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who lives in neighboring Winthrop and has been a supporter of the horse track where his father worked, said this week that limited space on the peninsula where he lives would lead him to oppose a hypothetical casino in his hometown.
Unlike the original plans, which called for a resort casino wrapped into the grandstand of the track, the new plans would separate the casino from the track, which would remain in operation.
“This is a vast piece of land,” said Suffolk official Charles Baker, who said there are 42 acres that can be developed in Revere, and also said the development would secure a new casino operator before the Dec. 31 deadline to put its final application before the commission. He said, “They will be separate establishments.”
Baker said the plans will be before the Revere City Council on Dec. 2 and before the Planning Board on Dec. 3. He challenged the Gaming Commission to find another mile-oval in the state that would comply with wetlands restrictions, and said the Sterling Suffolk group had originally tried and failed to build a racetrack in Sterling.
Tuttle said a Revere-only casino would require the horse barns to be moved off-site, and said horse barns are often separated from race tracks on the east coast of the country.