By Lynne Snierson
New England horsemen turned out to voice their support for the proposed $1.3 billion Mohegan Sun casino development at Suffolk Downs when the Massachusetts Gaming Commission held a public hearing to solicit community input March 25.
Owners, trainers, jockeys, veterinarians and track workers were among the packed crowd at the Boston Convention and World Trade Center as more than 130 concerned speakers on both sides of the issue offered testimony.
Should the commission chose the competing proposal by Wynn Resorts to develop a $1.6 million casino in the city of Everett located less than two miles from the stable gate, racetrack officials have been candid in stating it will be economically unfeasible to continue live racing.
"Suffolk Downs is the last surviving Thoroughbred track in New England and it has been part of our city and our culture for almost 80 years. It would be devastating if there were no more Suffolk Downs," said Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo, an ardent supporter of the project. "At the end of the day, this is about jobs. To have Mohegan Sun at Suffolk Downs is a perfect marriage. It will preserve 850 racetrack jobs and create 4,000 new jobs. The racing at the track will be upgraded and improved. It is unfathomable to think that there would be no more Suffolk Downs in Revere."
Jockey Janelle Campbell, recently returned to New England from competing at tracks in Pennsylvania now that the stable area is open, said, "This is not just a job for me or for my fellow jockeys. It's a part of our lives. Here at Suffolk Downs the people are not just jockeys, valets, exercise riders, hot walkers, grooms and more, they are family. This isn't just about jobs; it's our life's passion. There is a lot of history here with the Hall of Fame horses and riders who have been here over the years. The history of this track is the history of each and every person who has created a life here."
Opponents of the project cited traffic problems, social ills, and gambling addiction, and they raised the issue that voters in East Boston, where the majority of the track property is located, resoundingly rejected a casino at the track in a Nov. 5 referendum. Some public officials and citizens questioned the legitimacy of the commission allowing the casino to be moved to the Revere side of the property exclusively.
Suffolk chief operating officer Chip Tuttle was in attendance and said, "If Mohegan Sun is successful, and it should be based on the strength of its proposal, we look forward to a more competitive purse structure and to creating a better experience here for fans and horsemen alike."
On March 26, the commission will hold a similar public input forum on the Wynn proposal in Everett. The five commissioners are expected to chose between the competing proposals and award the sole casino license designated for the Greater Boston area no later than June30.
The 2014 live meet at Suffolk opens May 3 and runs through September 1, contingent upon the outcome of the license award.