Suffolk Downs

Suffolk Downs

Chip Bott

Suffolk Downs in Battle for Casino License

Steve Wynn of Las Vegas submitted his application and fee Jan. 14.

By  Lynne Snierson

There is a match race in Massachusetts for the coveted sole destination resort casino license designated for the Boston area.

Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn submitted a formal Phase 1 application with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission Jan. 14, one day under a key deadline, to vie with the proposal of Suffolk Downs and partner Caesar's Entertainment, which was also filed formally the same day.

"In addition to creating the greatest positive economic impact for our host and surrounding communities and the Commonwealth, our proposal has the unique advantage of preserving one of Boston's historic sporting landmarks, ensuring the future health of the local racing industry and encouraging agribusiness, saving thousands of acres of working open space," Suffolk Downs chief operating officer Chip Tuttle said in a prepared statement.

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 that held a pari-mutuel license in 2010 to continue racing operations.

Wynn's massive project, which would 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. Wynn paid the non-refundable $400,000 casino application fee Jan. 14, and Suffolk Downs submitted a check for the same amount Aug. 10, 2012.

The legislation to allow expanded gambling in Massachusetts, which was signed into law in October 2011, calls for the development of up to three destination resort casinos in the state, with only one to be designated for each of three separate geographical regions, plus the establishment of one stand-alone slot machine parlor that can be located anywhere in the state.

Horse racing interests are set to receive 9% of slots revenue, 5% of the projected $280 million license fees for all four gaming facilities, and 2.5% of the state's 25% share of gross gaming revenue from the three destination resort casinos.

Plainridge Race Course, the state's only live Standardbred racing facility, earlier submitted its application and paid the $400,000 fee to operate the slots parlor. Raynham Park president George Carney said he also planned to seek the slots license and was expected to partner with a major gaming concern to build the facility on the site of the former Greyhound racetrack.

Carney had until 5 p.m. EST Jan. 15 to file his application and pay the fee.

Penn National Gaming Inc., MGM, Hard Rock International, and Mohegan Sun met the deadline as well and are battling 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 move forward with renegotiating a compact with state officials.

The gaming commission could take as long as one year to ascertain the financial qualifications, and conduct in-depth background checks of the applicants, and perform other due diligence required. 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 Gov. Maggie Hassan favors the development of one destination casino to be located on the state's southern border with Massachusetts.

Hassan replaced outgoing four-term Gov. John Lynch, who was opposed to the expansion of gambling and had promised to veto any legislation passed.

Over the past several decades, legislation to expand gambling has passed the 24-member New Hampshire Senate but was killed in the 400-member 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 of Massachusetts. The track is seeking a casino license, and Millennium Gaming of Las Vegas holds an option to buy the property should expanded gambling be legalized.

Millennium officials have pledged that the return of live racing will be part of the revitalization of Rockingham Park.