Suffolk Downs and its partner Mohegan Sun are likely to take the Massachusetts Gaming Commission up on an offer made Tuesday to keep the bid for a Revere casino alive by allowing developers to submit their second-phase application by the end of the month without a certified local vote.
The compromise outlined and voted on unanimously by the five-member commission requires Suffolk Downs and Mohegan Sun to seek a new referendum vote in Revere, but commissioners expressed their willingness to approve a waiver from the requirement that a certified local vote be included in final applications due Dec. 31.
“It was a way to allow the voters to decide whether this goes forward rather than us. That was the primary thrust,” said commissioner James McHugh, a former judge who pitched his colleagues on the concept at Tuesday meeting at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.
Suffolk Downs Chief Operating Officer Chip Tuttle said the track and Mohegan Sun would likely take the next few days to decide whether to seek the path outlined by the commission, but expected they would apply for the waiver.
The alternative for the casino bidders would be to request the commission make a decision on whether the vote taken in Revere in November on a different casino proposed for Suffolk Downs property in East Boston and Revere could be applied to the new proposal.
East Boston voters on Nov. 5 rejected the Suffolk Downs casino proposal, forcing the horse track to shift its development over the city line and onto a little over 50 acres within the boundaries of Revere where voters approved the gambling facility. Under the new proposal, Mohegan Sun would own and operate the casino, while Suffolk Downs will lease the property.
“What we saw today was a positive affirmation from the commission that they’d like to find a way for this proposal to move forward, and we’re going to do our best to accommodate that,” Tuttle said. He continued, “We felt like we met all the requirements to move ahead before this artful suggestion by the commission, and if this is the way for us to move ahead, then we’re going to do it.”
Only one other casino proposal remains alive in the eastern Massachusetts region, a plan by Wynn Resorts to redevelop a polluted plot along the Mystic River in Everett. Voters in Milford last month rejected a Foxwoods casino proposal.
A spokesman for Wynn Resorts said the company would not comment on the commission’s decision to relax its application requirements so that the Suffolk Downs proposal could move forward as competition to Everett.
Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby and McHugh said Las Vegas casino developer Steve Wynn should not be disappointed by the vote taken Tuesday, which they argued was less about ensuring competition than making sure voters had a voice in the process.
“Our message to Steve Wynn is that we’re glad that he’s here, we’re glad that he’s in the competition, we look forward to seeing him next week and look forward to discussing issues with him then, but the fact that he’s here is good for the Commonwealth and good for the competition and good for the process,” McHugh said.
Casino opponents who filled the meeting room said they were disappointed that the commission did not simply stop Mohegan Sun’s new casino bid.
“They made a mockery of the Democratic process here. That’s what we’re seeing. The folks in Revere that voted for this, they did not write a blank check and I think we’re going to see that in round two,” said Celeste Myers, a community leader of No Eastie Casino.
Myers said her group will support casino opponents in Revere to try to help them defeat the new casino project at the ballot box, but criticized the Gaming Commission for carving out special rules for Suffolk Downs and Mohegan Sun. Had the commission treated the Suffolk Downs as a failed applicant, the track and its partners would have had to wait at least 180 days before reapplying, a condition that would have killed the project.
“They’re the ones who have the blame and the credit to be where they are today at the juncture where they don’t have an affirmative vote, they don’t have a host community agreement, they don’t have buy-in form the city of Boston and Revere. They have no one to blame but themselves,” Myers said, referring to Suffolk Downs.
Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo, who has been a vocal supporter of an all-Revere casino, said he expects to have a new and “more lucrative” host community agreement negotiated with Mohegan Sun within the next week to 10 days.
“I’m very confident that the voters will embrace this project even more than they did back on Nov. 5,” Rizzo said.
With voters casting ballots Tuesday in a special Congressional election, Rizzo said his one concern was “voter fatigue.”
“To pull them out in the middle of February is a little unnerving for me because obviously a lot of people vacation around that time, possibly outside the state, so the dynamics change a little bit,” Rizzo said. “But again, the reaction I have received around the city since Nov. 5 has not been why are we going forward, it’s when are we going to get a casino here in the city of Revere and I’m very, very hopeful and confident that when they do have to go back out and vote they will vote in the same numbers and the same way that they did back on Nov. 5.”
Myers said opponents will have to work hard to defeat the casino in Revere, describing a “hostile” environment at the last City Council meeting where “big burly union guys” heckled casino opponents.
Presented with conflicting legal opinions about the “complicated situation” created by opposite votes in Revere and East Boston, Crosby said the solution reached with McHugh’s idea for a waiver was “the most fair to the most people.”
The next meeting of the Gaming Commission will happen Friday when the commission convenes to consider the land–option agreement for Wynn Resort to purchase property in Everett for its proposed casino. Crosby has recused himself from the proceeding because of a prior business relationship with one of the land-owners, Paul Lohnes, but has said he intends to participate fully in the eastern Massachusetts licensing process. Wynn Resort would only purchase the property for $70 million if it is awarded a casino license.
Greg Sullivan, the former state inspector general and research director of the Pioneer Institute, said Tuesday that Crosby should recuse himself from the entire licensing process in eastern Massachusetts, suggesting the chairman was not living up to the more strict code of ethics adopted by the commission.
“Chairman Crosby’s decision to recuse himself from deliberations about the Everett land but not from deliberations about the casino license for the land makes a mockery of the new ethics rules,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said Crosby appears to be following the old ethics laws for state employees that would allow him to simply disclose his relationship, rather than the code adopted by the commission in February that requires recusal from matters that “affect the financial interest of . . . a person with whom they have a ‘significant relationship.’”
“He’s entitled to his opinion,” Crosby said of Sullivan. “I’ve thought this through very carefully and at this stage in the game I’m positive I can be objective and I believe that fair and reasonable people will look at my actions over the last year and half, but more importantly look at what I do over the next few days and months and weeks as this process unfolds.”
Crosby said he decided to recuse himself from Friday’s deliberation because the commission will be debating the option price on the Everett property, which was purchased in 2009 for $8 million, and is being offered to Wynn for $70 million.
“The essence of this is to try to figure out what fair and reasonable people will think about a person’s ability to be objective in the implementation of his public duties,” Crosby said, calling himself “perfectly capable” of maintaining that objectivity.