Something that has never before been questioned is whether or not Revere is absolutely a host city if a casino is built at Suffolk Downs. After much discussion, that foundational question and resulting local controversy seems to have settled. Revere is a host city.
But in the last 24 hours, that designation appeared to be hanging in the balance triggered largely by an erroneous e-mail sent out last Friday by the new Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) to former Revere City Councillor George Rotondo, an e-mail that uniformly announced that Revere was not a host community, in fact, that Revere is a surrounding community.
“In the case of a casino at Suffolk Downs, Revere would be considered a surrounding community, not a host community,” read the erroneous e-mail from the MGC. “The legislation does stipulate that a license applicant must negotiate mitigation agreements with surrounding communities however.”
On Tuesday, in response to pointed questions about the law, the Commission informed the Journal that the e-mail was an error by a staffer, but that information came long after the City was lit afire with questions about Revere’s exact status and the law.
“That (e-mail) answer was framed and sent by a staffer who was trying to be both prompt and helpful,” wrote MGC spokesperson Elaine Driscoll in an e-mail to the Journal. “Nevertheless, it was not the appropriate answer to the question and the answer does not represent the Commission’s position. We have today sent a follow-up email to the person who asked the question to inform him of the error. We will develop a new protocol for answering those questions to avoid any future confusion.”
That admission assuaged a lot of fears that had developed over the last several days because not having host status would be devastating to the City. Host community status is a lucrative designation that carries a heavy bargaining chip, a guarantee of millions of dollars per year in revenues and even more in mitigation fees and a chance for residents to weigh in through a citywide referendum vote.
Word spread of Revere possibly not being a host community during the day Monday and many sought the definitive word of the MGC, including the Journal.
Strong voices at the heart of the issue, however, were uniformly convinced and assured that the host status had not changed one iota no matter where the casino was physically built.
The Commission first indicated that the law was vague and there would be clarifications forthcoming, but there was no definitive answer as to where Revere stood.
Pushed further for clarification on Revere’s status, Driscoll consulted with MGC attorneys and said the MGC could not make a definitive statement about that status.
“We will rely on the language in the legislation to guide us but are not in a position right now to issue a legal opinion or respond to a hypothetical question on a matter not yet before the Commission,” said Driscoll on Monday night.
By Tuesday afternoon, when casino advocates were coming unwound, the MGC did issue the Journal more comforting language, though they still didn’t definitively call Revere a host community.
However, Driscoll said a live horseracing track would appear to be an essential ingredient to the overall gaming establishment under the law, and would thus appear to qualify Revere as a host community.
“Under those circumstances, it would appear that both Revere and East Boston would qualify as ‘host communities’ with respect to a Suffolk Downs casino license,” she said on Tuesday. “The Commission, however, does not now have before it a formal application, site plan or other detailed information about the Suffolk Downs proposal and it has not issued any regulations interpreting the statute or setting out the application procedures. Without those, it cannot make a final determination regarding host community status or any other aspect of any proposal in any community. The Commission is now considering all of the regulations that will be needed to carry out its responsibilities, including the procedures for making final determinations on host community status if asked to do so, and will issue any necessary clarifying regulations as it moves forward. As part of the process of issuing those regulations, the Commission will provide notice to the public and an opportunity to be heard on the regulations’ content.”
Despite all of that, officials at Suffolk Downs, Mayor Dan Rizzo and key members of the state delegation believed all along that the controversy had no substance.
Suffolk spokesman Chip Tuttle said the track considers Revere a host community and has begun negotiations with the understanding that Revere and East Boston are host communities.
“We believe Revere is a host community for our proposed development of a $1 billion world-class gaming and entertainment facility,” said Tuttle. “We have begun discussions on a host community agreement with Revere and intend to work with the city to bring that to fruition.”
Tuttle backed that up with a letter that had been sent to Mayor Rizzo in April that specified that the track was ready to negotiate a Host Community Agreement with the City, rather than a Surrounding Community Agreement.
Mayor Rizzo also refuted the idea that Revere could ever be left out of its status as host.
“I really believe at the end of the day it’s been taxed by both communities for 77 years and it will continue to be part of both communities,” he said. “It is going to be a joint development program regardless of what the Gaming Commission says…I was with Mayor (Tom) Menino last Friday night and he’s convinced and I’m convinced of the idea that it’s a joint venture. Suffolk recognizes it’s a Revere project. Boston realizes it’s a joint project. I don’t think one member of the Gaming Commission is going to dictate how this is going to unfold.”
Soundly backing up Revere’s status is a part of the Expanded Gaming Legislation (Chapter 23K, Section 1) that hits the key point of confusion. That key point is figuring out just what is a “gaming establishment.” Is it only the building where gaming is being conducted, or is it the entire property where the casino is located? That is just what the MGC interpreted late on Tuesday, and it is the part of the law that seems to favor Revere.
It states, “’Gaming establishment,’ the premises approved under a gaming license which includes a gaming area and any other non-gaming structure related to the gaming area and may include, but shall not be limited to, hotels, restaurants or other amenities.”
State Sen. Anthony Petruccelli (D-East Boston) said it is a piece of the law with which he is very familiar and with which he believes will easily clarify any questions.
“Based on the definition of host community and gaming establishment in the Massachusetts gaming law, it is pretty clear that Revere will be considered a host community for the development proposed by Suffolk Downs,” he said.
Meanwhile, Revere City Councillor Bob Haas said the whole situation began to brew last Monday when Revere councillors were given a sneak peak at the development plans, and those plans appeared to be pretty empty on the Revere side.
He also said that he made calls to the Commission and they indicated to him that there is a question as to whether or not Revere is still a host. The commission’s response to the Journal indicates that Haas’s concerns are completely unfounded and were simply just a lot of breakfast table talk.
“Being a host community wasn’t even an issue until last Friday,” he said.
With Tuesday’s official comments from the Gaming Commission, Revere as a host city remains a non-issue. It is a matter of law.
The unveiling of plans for a casino at Suffolk Downs has drawn some concerns in Revere this week due to most of the initial development being in East Boston, and those concerns have spawned a new grass-roots organization hoping to fight for a better lot.
‘Revere’s Fair Share’ launched online Monday, according to director Nick DeLena, and hopes to advocate for Revere to get an equal say in the process the revenues.
DeLena said the group adamantly supports the idea of a casino; they aren’t an anti-casino group. However, they hope that things don’t go all to Boston.
“We’re seeing troubling comments from Boston Mayor Tom Menino in that he’s thinking Boston-centric about this and saying the casino is in Boston and Boston will make decisions,” said DeLena. “That’s kind of why we started to organize. I get the impression he thinks Revere is on the periphery of the this and that is not the case. Revere is automatically at a disadvantage because of our size. We are a small place compared to Boston. Menino has been around a long, long time and has some serious clout. We’re very concerned and there’s definitely a history of Revere being pushed around by Boston at Suffolk Downs.”
He also said they would like to see more infrastructure work at Bell Circle and a project to widen Rt. 1 South in Revere.
“They’ve talked about a one-time infrastructure payment of $40 million and that seems like a lot of money, but when you think about the City Budget, that’s really only one-fifth of our annual City Budget. That’s not so much,” he said.
The organization can be found online at ReveresFairShare.com.