By Lynne Snierson
The field competing against Suffolk Downs for the coveted sole destination resort casino license designated for the Boston area became more crowded when new entrants met the key deadline to submit formal phase-1 proposals and the non-refundable application fee Jan. 15.
One day earlier, Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn submitted his application and the $400,000 fee to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to vie with the proposal of Suffolk Downs and partner Caesar’s Entertainment, which was also filed formally on the same day.
Four new developers surfaced the evening of Jan. 15 and joined the seven that had already submitted proposals, bringing the total to 11 vying for one of up to three destination casino resorts to be located in three separate geographical regions and one stand-alone slot machine parlor to be built anywhere in Massachusetts. Two other casino concerns requested a waiver on the deadline, and the commission has the authority to grant extensions.
Developer David Nunes, the principal of Crossroads Massachusetts, proposes to build a resort casino in Milford, Mass., which falls in the greater Boston region. Rush Street Gaming, The Cordish Company, and Raynham Park, a former Greyhound racing track in the state, are the other that stepped forward Jan. 15.
Four major casino developers, Penn National Gaming Inc., MGM, Hard Rock International, and Mohegan Sun, had already filed to battle for the casino designated for Western Massachusetts. The federally recognized Mashpee Wampanoag Native American tribe received preference for the Southeastern region casino but outside developers may submit bids should tribal leaders be unable to make progress renegotiating a compact with state officials.
Plainridge Race Course, the state’s only live Standardbred racing facility, earlier submitted its application to operate the slots parlor. Raynham Park president George Carney said that his Greenwood Racing Group, which includes partners from gambling concerns located outside of Massachusetts, will compete against Plainridge.
The proposals of The Cordish Company and Rush Street Gaming did not specify a geographical region or whether the intention is to pursue a license for the slots parlor or a full casino. Nonetheless, Rush Street Gaming officials are said to be looking for a site in the greater Boston area.
The commission regulations state that any developer linked to one site that has paid the fee and submitted the Phase 1 application may move to another site.
Suffolk Downs chief operating 0fficer Chip Tuttle said: "We have always anticipated competition in the region and known that we will have to earn a license on the merits of creating the most jobs, revenue, and local business partnerships, having the premier site with access to major highways and public transportation, committing to the best local road and infrastructure programs and preserving one of the area's historic sporting landmarks and its existing workforce."
The actual site proposals are not due until the next phase of the application process in June. Before any proposal may move forward, the developer needs to secure local approvals and have in place an agreement with the host community, agreements with all surrounding communities, and a positive result in a local referendum.
The Suffolk Downs plan calls for its management team to develop and operate a $1 billion Caesar’s-branded world-class resort and casino on the 163-acre racetrack grounds. Suffolk Downs, which opened 78 years ago, is the only live Thoroughbred racing venue remaining in New England. Massachusetts law requires any applicant which held a pari-mutuel license in 2010 to continue racing operations.
Wynn’s massive project, to be situated on a leased 37-acre parcel of land that is the former site of a Monsanto chemical plant in Everett, just north of Boston, would include a hotel, upscale retail shops, restaurants, a spa, and convention meeting space in addition to the casino. Nunes’ plan has not been detailed but it is virtually certain that it will not include live racing, either.
The gaming commission said it will now hire multiple investigation teams to conduct in-depth background checks of the applicants and it will investigate the financial qualifications and perform other due diligence required. The background investigations will take six months at a minimum and the first casino license is not expected to be issued before 2014.
In related news, new expanded gambling bills will be introduced in both houses of the New Hampshire legislature in the coming weeks. Newly-inaugurated Governor Maggie Hassan is in favor of allowing one destination casino to be located on the state’s southern border with Massachusetts. She replaced outgoing four-term Governor John Lynch, who was opposed to the expansion of gambling and had promised to veto any legislation passed.
Over the past 20 years, legislation to expand gambling has passed the New Hampshire Senate but was killed in the House of Representatives.
Rockingham Park, which opened for live Thoroughbred racing in 1906 and last conducted a meet in 2002, is located on the border and only 30 miles north of Boston. Millennium Gaming of Las Vegas holds an option to buy the track should expanded gambling be legalized and its officials have pledged that the return of live racing will be part of the revitalization of the property.
Pro-expanded gambling officials in New Hampshire hope to have a destination casino up and fully operational before any new facility opens its doors in Massachusetts.