In the midst of Suffolk Downs making a big splash this week with their official intentions to seek a casino license, the New England Patriots are apparently throwing a chop block their way.
With a major casino developer visiting Patriots owner Bob Kraft at last Sunday’s football game, casino gaming in Greater Boston has officially become a multi-billion dollar battle that will be fought by billionaires just a short distance across the Chelsea Creek.
In an expanded gaming scenario that – at least up until last week – seemed like a slam dunk for Suffolk Downs, Patriots owner Bob Kraft threw a monkey wrench into the plan by inviting Las Vegas gaming mogul Steve Wynn to the Patriots game and by proposing a $1 billion development plan for Foxboro – a plan that could net the Town of Foxboro some $15 million per year.
As the license boundaries exist now, Suffolk Downs would have to compete with Foxboro for one license.
At the same time, Suffolk Downs also turned up the heat by rolling out their plans for the coming months with a comprehensive open letter advertisement in the Revere Journal and the East Boston Times.
In the letter, signed by Chief Operating Officer Chip Tuttle and approved by owners Richard Fields and Joe O’Donnell, Suffolk details that they plan to apply for a license, that they expect stiff competition and that they plan to hold community meetings in the coming months.
“Consistent with what we have said for the last few years, Suffolk Downs intends to compete for one of the three resort casino licenses authorized by the new law,” read Tuttle’s letter, which appears in this edition of the Journal and Times. “We expect formidable competition for these licenses. Notwithstanding that, we are confident we can earn a license based on our 76-year history of hosting gaming and on our proposal to develop a world-class destination combining a hotel, restaurants, retail, entertainment, gaming and horse racing.”
The letter touched on the track’s commitment to providing thousands of jobs with benefits and advancement opportunities for local residents, which is perhaps the biggest issue in the debate for those who live in Chelsea.
They also allude to revenue for host communities and investing in local road and transportation projects.
“We are committed to…working with state and local law enforcement on a comprehensive public safety program and spending tens of millions of dollars annually on goods and services with local businesses,” read the letter.
Notably, Suffolk announced that they’ve taken design renderings released last year – during the previous failed attempt at approving expanded gaming – and revamped them.
“Since then, we have been working to refine those plans with teams of architects, engineers and our gaming management partner, Caesar’s Entertainment,” wrote Tuttle. “Over the next several months, we will begin to roll out specific and more detailed plans so that the community can better understand and provide us feedback and ideas. We have been excited to listen to community ideas to date and look forward to an open dialogue with you, including community meetings and opportunities for public input as we move forward.”
Suffolk Downs also noted that they plan to unveil a website – called www.friendsofsuffolkdowns.com – to answer questions about the new expanded gaming bill and the process that is ahead – including a binding ballot referendum for Revere and Eastie voters. Chelsea – as it is not a host community – will not be included in any casino referendum vote.
“As we enter the next phase of our business development, we pledge to build upon that legacy and to embrace our commitment to our host communities,” concluded Tuttle.
That remarkable rollout from Suffolk was curbed a bit by the weekend news, as pictures of Kraft with Wynn were all over the Boston newspapers on Monday. Wynn – who grew up in Boston and has relatives in Revere – attended the game on Sunday, but also presented a detailed plan for a $1 billion casino development to local Foxboro officials.
It came during a closed door meeting with Wynn, the officials and Kraft, according to Boston media reports.
Having a big-time Vegas player like Wynn and a wholesome New Englander like Kraft in the casino game certainly stirs the pot in an uneasy direction for Suffolk.
However, the “Patriot” casino currently faces stiff and resounding opposition from Foxboro residents – who, like Revere and Eastie – would have to approve the idea in a binding referendum vote.
Just last September, Foxboro’s city manager proposed changing the Town’s zoning to permit casino gaming and was beat back decidedly by a packed room full of angry residents.
Likewise, in 2004, Foxboro voters easily rejected a casino in a referendum vote of the Town.
In addition, Kraft would potentially need approvals from the National Football League to operate a gaming facility on his property – though the details of that are still rather uncertain.
To date in the debate, things have mostly been rough sketches and grand, public shows of power and money.
The clear focus in the state process right now is getting a five-person Gaming Commission appointed.
The Gaming Commission – more than any other body – will be charged with steering the new process and evaluating licensee applications. The Commission will eventually select who gets and does not get a casino license.
According to the law, the governor gets one appointment and that person will be the Commission chair. The state treasurer also gets an appointment, but that person must have a background in corporate finance. The state attorney general gets a singular appointment too, and that person must have a criminal justice background.
The other two appointments will come from a joint decision of the governor, the attorney general and the treasurer.
Already, those three officials have announced that they will hire an executive search firm to help with the choice. That firm will be chosen within the next month, and applications for Commissioner positions are due by January 9.
The new Commission, by law, must be in place within 104 days from today, December 8.
Until that time, let the races begin.