The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) kept alive the Revere-only casino proposal by Suffolk Downs at a meeting last Thursday – but they didn’t do that until after Mayor Dan Rizzo and Suffolk Downs officials gave brilliant narratives.
MGC Chair Steve Crosby concluded the meeting with a deep sigh, noting it was a tough decision.
“We need to look at the law and overlay that with the Host Community Agreement and the referendum vote and see where we are,” said Crosby at the conclusion of the 90-minute hearing at Boston’s South Boston Convention Center. “We need to do our research as quickly as we possibly can and consider this carefully and we’re leaning towards waiting for the full proposal, but we’re not absolutely there yet. That’s where we are (on this); wherever that is.”
Commissioners, such as James McHugh and Enrique Zuniga, seemed to favor letting Suffolk Downs go forward with their Dec. 31 Phase 2 application – and perhaps make a decision on whether they can actually have a Revere-only casino once the full application is in hand.
“If we leave the meeting today with a plan to wait, we have not committed ourselves that this is possible or impossible,” said McHugh. “We need to look at the documentation and look at the statute and weave them together. We’ve not said possible or impossible. I’d like to leave this meeting today with that…Typically, that’s what we do – propose to leave things in the air.”
One Commissioner, Gayle Cameron, was concerned about fairness – though she seemed to be the lone voice on that track.
“If we wait for their application to come in and make a decision then…you would have a threshold issue no other applicant has and that is that we accept you,” she said. “I understand the reason for that, but then I wonder if we’re being fair.”
That said, the Commission did decide to do nothing at the moment, which was a clear victory for Suffolk Downs and Revere. It was a victory because the fight for a Revere-only casino lived to breathe another day – and even seemed to pick up momentum where it previously did not have it.
Perhaps it was because of presentations by Suffolk officials and Revere officials.
Suffolk and Mayor Rizzo were charged with three questions and their responses were glowing – giving anyone within earshot a clear and logical picture of the world-class establishment they are only days away from making public.
The first question had to do with the host community agreement and the referendum – whether or not people could have anticipated the plan of a Revere-only casino.
Revere has said its agreement and ballot question anticipated such a turn of events, but a clear stumbling block for Commissioners was the fact that Revere’s agreement said it could be re-opened if Suffolk Downs “expanded” its project.
“We wanted to make sure that if East Boston voted ‘no,’ there would be the option of developing only the Revere side,” said Attorney Brian Falk, who represented Revere in the process. “This re-opener was published in the agreement. The HCA and the referendum question were specifically intended to accommodate the existing situation we find ourselves in today.”
Said McHugh, “’Expands’ is different than ‘changes.’”
Said Crosby, “This is not an expansion of the facility; it’s a whole new facility.”
Suffolk Downs argued that the facility referred to in the expansion language had to do with the racetrack and not the casino, which gave everyone reason to pause.
Added Rizzo, “Mr. Chip Tuttle (Chief Operating Officer of Suffolk Downs) has made it very clear as he has travelled through Revere – I can’t speak for East Boston – that the possibility would exist to re-locate to one city or the other. There was always the caveat we would have to navigate through the process…We always wanted to plan that if what happened did occur, that the City of Revere could be prepared.”
Other questions revolved around the horse track and how that would figure into following the law – specifically that gaming operators owning a track are required to continue racing if they get a casino license.
Tuttle assured the MGC that racing would continue at Suffolk Downs, but that the barns and training areas would be moved off-site.
“We have no plans to move the racetrack itself and will continue to pursue options that allow us to preserve our 78-year legacy of Thoroughbred racing here,” he told them. “Some have suggested that we would have to close the track to accommodate a gaming facility on the Revere portion of the project. This is simply not true.”
He said they have very real negotiations going right now that could lead to relocating the barns and training areas, and move to the process of driving horses in to the track.
“The use of off-site stabling and training centers is fairly common practice at East Coast racing venues,” he said.
Also giving testimony at the hearing were representatives from No Eastie Casino. Commissioners grilled the arguments of the anti-casino group and questioned at one point if they had reason to tell Revere voters what to do.
Two Revere residents – including restaurateur Gary Ferragamo and Revere Building Inspector Stephen Ciambelli – also testified.