FROM: Celeste Ribeiro Myers
No Eastie Casino to Suffolk Downs "What part of we voted NO don't you understand?"
Suffolk Downs shuffle faces scrutiny
(NECN: Peter Howe) In the aftershocks of Milford residents voting no on a Foxwoods casino and casino foes submitting 90,000 signatures to repeal the 2011 gambling law outright, the state Gaming Commission Thursday dug into an ungodly mess of a legal question: Suffolk Downs push to escape a “no” vote in East Boston by sliding its casino plan, retroactively, across the city line to Revere.
Ultimately, casino regulators agreed to not yet agree – or disagree – on whether the Suffolk Downs team can move ahead with a Revere-based casino application. Gaming Commission chairman Steve Crosby said whichever way the five-member panel rules, "Somebody's going to be very unhappy here, and this is a 51-49 question, at best. We ought to have all the information we can get."
Besides the question of voters’ will and understanding of what they were voting on Nov. 5, the commission’s questions even got down to the dictionary definitions of words like "expand" and "premises."
When East Boston voted 56-44 no and Revere voted 61-39 yes on Nov. 5, the plans that had been presented for months to voters envisioned a casino and restaurants on the East Boston side of the 161-acre property, inside the grandstand of the 78-year-old race track. The Revere side of the parcel was to remain largely space for horse barns and ancillary buildings.
But within minutes after the votes came in, Suffolk and Revere officials were already talking about retroactively reconfiguring the plan to slide the casino part into the roughly 50 acres of the site located in Revere.
Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo told the casino commission Thursday: "The residents and voters of Revere have been in support of this project, whether the construction is all in Boston, part in Boston and part in Revere, or all in Revere."
Rizzo and Charles Baker III, a Boston superlawyer who serves as Suffolk’s board secretary, said Revere and Suffolk had had conversations about what would happen if Revere voted yes and Boston voted no, and they pointed to language in the Revere "host community agreement" they said was written with that contingency in mind: "If the Owner [Suffolk] seeks to expand its gaming establishment onto the Revere Property or beyond the Owner shall promptly notify the City and the Parties shall negotiate in good faith an amendment to this Agreement … "
But that claim faced significant skepticism. Gaming Commissioner James McHugh, a former Superior Court judge, said bluntly: "The verb ‘expands’ is different than 'changes.'"
Agreed Crosby: "This is not an expansion to the Revere side. This is the elimination of the facility altogether, and building a fresh one … Expand does means expand. It doesn't mean replace. I find that troubling." But after hearing a quote from Suffolk chief operating officer Chip Tuttle saying the track owners had thought about the "really, really, really hard" solution to an Eastie no vote of moving the casino to Revere, Crosby said, "If it was in his mind as an option, then it's hard to not to take the two lawyers at their word, unless they're lying to us bald-faced."
No Eastie Casino chief counsel Matt Cameron said, "It’s an extreme stretch to say that when you're talking about expanding a gaming facility what you were talking about was installing it wholesale [in Revere] with nothing in East Boston … We voted a casino at Suffolk Downs. Not a casino in East Boston. Not a casino in Revere. But a casino at Suffolk Downs, which we were told for several years would span the entire 161-acre property."
Celeste Ribeiro Myers, co-founder of No Eastie Casino, said, "This is a last-ditch effort by folks who spent a lot of money" who, she said, are trying to roll over democratically voted opposition.
"We did our part. We did our job," Ribeiro Myers said. "We stopped it at the ballot box." She questioned how much longer citizen volunteers will be forced to keep spending their own time and money fighting the project after the vote. "You know, we're needing to keep our organization going, financially, and personally, and quite frankly, I punch a clock. I'm here all day not getting paid" while testifying at the commission.
Tuttle said Suffolk wants to come back to the commission with a plan that honors Revere’s yes vote, provides consideration to East Boston through a “neighboring community” deal, preserves hundreds of horse-racing jobs, and keeps Suffolk viable as a race track.
"We, with our team of architects and engineers and environmental consultants have been working diligently with the [Revere] mayor and his team since then to meet those challenges, with the objective of presenting to you by the end of this year a plan that locates our gaming establishment entirely in Revere, meets or exceeds all of the legislative requirements and all of the standards that you have set out."
Crosby’s final verdict: "Can they do this? We're going to say, we're not sure yet."
Meanwhile, there were other big developments with the last surviving eastern Massachusetts casino bidder with a clear local yes vote, Wynn Resorts’ plan for a casino in Everett.
The Boston Globe reported Thursday morning a federal grand jury and two state agencies are investigating whether a businessman with an extensive criminal record has a hidden ownership in the property where casino developer Wynn wants to build his $1.3 billion resort. Federal prosecutors want to know whether that businessman, Charles Lightbody, is a secret investor who could profit if the casino is approved.
Wynn is expected to face a December 16 ethics "suitability" vote by the Gaming Commission, it was announced Thursday morning.
With videographer Scott Wholley