Last Tuesday’s referendum vote, which was a convincing ‘no’ in East Boston and a resounding ‘yes’ in Revere has halted the project at Suffolk Downs touted by the racetrack’s ownership over the past three years. However, the split vote has complicated matters as Suffolk Downs’ ownership is presenting a plan to move the casino operation onto 52-acres that lies on the Revere side of the property.
The move has enraged East Boston’s elected officials like Senator Anthony Petruccelli who said in his opinion that the Suffolk Downs’ plan to move the project to the Revere side is not in the spirit of the referendum that Eastie and Revere residents voted on last week.
“On Tuesday, November 5 I joined many voters in East Boston and Revere and voted yes on whether or not a casino could be built at Suffolk Downs,” said Petruccelli. “I did so because I believed the benefits outweighed the impacts. As I understand the rules of engagement for this process, the voters in both communities needed to vote ‘yes’ in order for proposal to advance to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and that did not happen. In my opinion, the results are unambiguous and the resort at Suffolk Downs is dead.”
However, the referendum vote in both Eastie and Revere had a bit of ambiguity and it will be up to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to determine what exactly each community was voting for. On one hand, Petruccelli argues that voters went to the polls last Tuesday and voted on a land use question that encompasses all of the Suffolk Downs property, both the Eastie and Revere sides and is of the opinion a no vote kills the possibility of a future casino on any part of the property. On the other hand, while the technical address of Suffolk Downs Racetrack is an Eastie address, the Revere ballot simply asked voters if they agree with putting a casino development at Suffolk Downs off “Winthrop Avenue”.
“To my knowledge the proposal had every inch of development being built in East Boston and Revere was still considered a host community,” said Petruccelli. “There was some concern last year over this and I advocated very strongly that Revere needed to be a host community. If somehow Suffolk Downs is allowed to offer a new development I would expect both communities would again be host communities.”
In June 2012, elected officials, the Gaming Commission and Suffolk Downs clarified Revere’s status as a host community because the gaming establishment at Suffolk Downs was defined as the gaming area and any other amenity to the gaming area under the development proposal.
Suffolk Downs COO Chip Tuttle said Monday that the ownership would have to divest the racetrack as an ‘amenity’ in order to move forward with a Revere-only development. This would cut Eastie off as a host community because all gaming would be in Revere and there would be no gaming amenities in Boston.
Tuttle added that the reason why Revere was a host community is because part of the track was in Revere and the track was proposed as an amenity to the casino. Tuttle further stated that the ownership is exploring several scenarios regarding the future of the racetrack which includes keeping it in Eastie and trying to make it work as a separate entity or demolishing the track and moving it to another area..
Petruccelli sent a letter to the Gaming Commission this week explaining that this vote was a joint venture between Eastie and Revere—something Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo was explicit about in 2012 calling it ‘joint development program’.
“I am hopeful that the gaming commission will see the logic and the facts of this proposal and that if Suffolk Downs puts forward a new proposal there needs to be a new process and a new vote,” said Petruccelli. “In my opinion, anything less would question the integrity of the law and the process.”
If Suffolk Downs is able to move forward with a new proposal Eastie would not receive the cash windfall promised under the Host Community Agreement Mayor Thomas Menino inked with the racetrack this summer. Eastie would be downgraded to a ‘surrounding community’ but Tuttle said there would still be opportunity for Eastie to benefit.
“Opponents were successful in stopping gaming development in East Boston – we have to honor that. Revere is a separate municipality, a separate ballot question and a separate result,” he said. “If we are successful in moving forward in Revere, we would work to ensure benefits to our neighbors in East Boston. There was a lot of support for our proposal in East Boston and, if Boston is a surrounding community, there would still be significant road improvements along Route 1A, local hiring, spending for local businesses and community investment.”