Suffolk Downs to Close Racetrack after Wynn Resorts Won the Boston Casino License
It was announced earlier this week that Wynn Resorts would win the Boston casino license, instead of Mohegan Sun. In the wake of that announcement, the owners of Suffolk Downs announced yesterday they would close the Boston racetrack. The two announcements were tied directly to one another.
Mohegan Sun and Suffolk Downs had partners on a proposal to build a casino on the racetrack’s property. This resulting all-purpose gambling complex would have been a major cash boost to Suffolk Downs, which has been struggling in recent years. With the casino to boost revenues, the racetrack could not survive.
Chip Tuttle Announces Closing
That’s what Chip Tuttle, the COO of Suffolk Downs, said in an emotionally-charged statement which announced the decision. Tuttle (pictured right) said in the statement, “We are extraordinarily disappointed as this action is likely to cost the Commonwealth thousands of jobs, small businesses, and family farms. We will be meeting with employees and horsemen over the next several days to talk about how we wind down racing operations, as a 79-year legacy of Thoroughbred racing in Massachusetts will be coming to an end, resulting in unemployment and uncertainty for many hard-working people.”
Members of the panel which determined to go with Steve Wynn’s proposal instead of the Mohegan tribe of Connecticut were asked whether they had considered the struggles of Suffolk Downs in their decision. Gayle Cameron, who sat on that panel, said “it was an important piece of my evaluation.” Despite Suffolk being an important part of her consideration, Gayle Cameron voted for the Wynn Resorts plan. So did Bruce Stebbins and Enrique Zuniga.
Rumors about Suffolk’s Demise
It was long speculated that the casino proposal might be the only way to save Suffolk Downs. It turned out that the horsetrack’s owners had staked everything on the decision by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission’s handpicked panel. From 2007 to 2013, the owners of Suffolk Downs are thought to have spent $3.275 million on lobbying efforts to bring casino gambling to the state. Lobbying led to a 2011 vote on whether a casino should be approved in the Boston area. That 2011 vote went the way Suffolk’s owners wanted it, but that brought in major non-Massachusetts gaming interests.
Wynn Resorts Casino Development
One of those was Wynn Resorts, which planned to build a casino in Everett. Steve Wynn proposed to spend the most money in building a casino, and that might have swayed the panel members. The Wynn Resorts casino will be an expansive $1.6 billion facility, while the Mohegan Sun complex would have been a more conservative $1.1 billion resort. Speculation was the Mohegan Sun wanted their resort small enough that it would not detract from their main facility in Connecticut.
The Wynn Resorts development has been plagued by concerns about graft and corruption. When Wynn’s rivals, Caesars Entertainment, lost out in an early round of the licensing battles, Caesars sued the chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. The lawsuit said that chairman had unannounced ties to the group which would profit from the Wynn Resorts plan. Though the lawsuit was thrown out by a judge, the chairman recused himself from further involvement in the plan. Still, his chosen panel were the ones making the decisions.
A later Boston Globe report indicated that one of the owners of the land on which the Everett casino would be built was a former convict. This led to the Wynn Resorts purchase of a 28 acres tract of land in Everett being held up by state regulators. Eventually, the mayor of Everett offered to have the city purchase the land, then sell it at-cost to the Wynn Resorts people.
The obstacles were surmounted, though, and Steve Wynn’s casino plan won out in the end. Along the way, Wynn had offered to spend $30 million on a conservation project for the Mystic River. The plan would stock the river with 250,000 oysters, which can purify several gallons of water a day each.
Mohegan Sun and Suffolk Downs Plan
In the end, Mohegan Sun was the closest remaining rival to the Wynn Resorts plan. Mohegan Sun has long had a relationship with Boston-area gamblers. For years, Boston players would make the 2-hour trip to Connecticut to play at the Mohegan Sun casino. Over time, that casino began to have it own struggles, and the tribe looked to the Boston casino plan as a major turning point in its rejuvenation.
The Mohegan Sun originally had a casino plan that would overlap the cities of Revere and East Boston. Last year, the people of East Boston voted down that plan, so the tribal gaming company had to reformulate its plan to include land only in Revere. That plan included Suffolk Downs, and promised to give both struggling gaming entities a new life in the Boston market. Those hopes proved to be forelorn, though, and now only Wynn Resorts stands to profit from the Boston gaming license.
November Casino Vote
The Boston-area casino might still never happen. In November, the people of Massachusetts will be given one more opportunity to change their collective minds on their 2011 casino decision. A referendum will be offered on whether the people of Massachusetts want a casino in the Boston area or not.
A number of groups have come out against the proposed casino. Earlier this week, Cardinal O’Malley was chief on a list of Catholic leaders from Massachusetts who voiced their opposition to a land-based casino in the Boston area. Gambling proponents have been just as vocal, citing the $1 billion each year that leaves Massachusetts from citizens traveling out-of-state to gamble. They say the Boston casino would bring thousands of new jobs, while retaining a billion in revenues per year.
It is too early to say how the Suffolk Downs closing will affect the status of the vote. Many Boston-area gamblers might be bitter or angry that the Wynn Resorts casino decision forced an area landmark to close. At the same time, if enough Bostonians were concerned about that, then the racetrack might not have closed in the first place.
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