Suffolk officials state their case for expanded gaming

Senator Anthony Petruccelli stood with Suffolk Downs Racetrack at a Senate hearing last Tuesday on expanded gaming in the state.

Petruccelli testified alongside Suffolk Downs’ Chief Operating Officer Chip Tuttle saying that the benefits for his district (which includes East Boston, Revere and Winthrop) far outweighs the negative impacts a resort-style casino at Suffolk Downs on the Eastie-Revere line.

The hearing was in response to the Senate’s plan to allow the state to license three resort-style casinos while keeping a ban on slot machines at the state’s four racetracks like Suffolk Downs.

The Senate’s bill also favors placing geographical restrictions on the license so no more than one casino can be placed in any one area.

For example the Senate favors a casino in or near Boston, one in the South East corner of the state and one out in Western Massachusetts.

Suffolk Downs favors this type of approach because there is really no other competition for a casino license from a developer in the Boston area. Suffolk, as of now, is really the only game in town that is housed in a facility that has had a long standing tradition of horse race gambling in the area.

"As the state’s premier gaming destination for 75 years, our vision is to develop a world-class complex that integrates horse-racing with restaurants, retail, gaming and a hotel," said Suffolk Downs’ Chief Operating Officer Chip Tuttle. "This development would allow us to hires thousands of local people and commit resources to help address long-standing traffic issues. We are open to any considerations, including geographic, that move us closer to this vision."

Expanded gaming or full scale resort-style casino’s in the Commonwealth are not going to be as epidemic as crack was in the 1980s as some suggested at the public hearing.

However, it is also not going to solve all of the state’s fiscal woes as others would suggest.

Somewhere in the middle is where the truth lies.

At Tuesday’s hearing all the focus was on jobs and job creation with the hearing room packed with out of work Teamsters holding signs that read ‘Casino’s Now! Jobs Now!’.

“We need an industry to jump-start our economy . . . and casinos are one answer,” said Sean O’Brien, president of Teamsters Local 25.

Suffolk’s Chip Tuttle has been trying to convince the state legislature that the racetrack is not only interested in a gaming license but is willing to create local jobs and improve infrastructure surrounding the track.

Upon authorization, based on financial assumptions consistent with legislation before the state committee, Suffolk would immediately invest up to $300 million in our existing facility and local infrastructure improvements.

"Suffolk Downs has entered a partnership with our friends from Wonderland Park in Revere to ensure that the local community would not be faced with choosing one venue over another as this debate proceeds," said Tuttle. "Our facility, just minutes from Boston and from Logan International Airport, includes 800,000 square feet of existing building, much of it unused during racing, with current occupancy permits for 38,000 people – similar to Fenway Park. Our site is 163 acres in Boston and Revere, including over 5,000 surface parking spaces and access to two MBTA stops. We race 100 days a year, process over $200 million in annual wagering and routinely handle crowds of 10-20,000 people on our biggest days and for special events."

Tuttle said Suffolks’ plan is for gaming development at the racetrack and commercial development at Wonderland that complements the ongoing renewal of Eastie and the Revere Beach area.

Suffolk could be up and running within a few months with an initial development that could create 2,500 construction jobs and 3,000 new permanent jobs. In addition, an initial development at Suffolk Downs would create in excess of $100 annually in new, direct tax revenue.

Today Suffolk Downs conducts 100 days of live racing, 362 days of simulcasting and processes over $200 million a year in wagering on horse-racing, lottery and Keno.

Some at last week’s hearing suggested that this is the exact reason not to allow expanded gaming in the state because it could lead to a compulsive gambling epidemic. Tuttle said the racetrack has a long history of helping gamblers in trouble and training its staff to recognize the warning signs–something Suffolk Downs would continue.

"We (Suffolk Downs) are licensed, regulated and monitored by the Commonwealth and we have a unit of the Massachusetts State Police on-site, year-round," said Tuttle. "We have a trained and dedicated workforce. We work closely with the Mass Council on Compulsive Gambling to promote its services for those in need and to train our employees."

However, in the final analysis, the entire argument over whether or not to allow casinos will come down to how many jobs Suffolk will create for out-of-work residents and how much revenue a casino could generate for the state coffers.

Currently, Suffolk Downs generates 2,334 jobs related to the horse racing industry throughout the state.

This includes over 1,500 at the track itself, including direct employees – mutual clerks, maintenance workers, restaurant, cleaning, security and administrative personnel — as well as the owners, trainers, jockeys, exercise riders, grooms, veterinarians, blacksmiths and stable hands who care for horses and who work at the remaining working farms in Massachusetts where horses are bred, raised and boarded.

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