Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo Massachusetts casino license Mohegan Sun Suffolk Downs

Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo is hugged by a supporter after learning that the Mohegan Sun casino referendum passed on Tuesday in Massachusetts. (Image: Elise Amendola, AP)

It’s official: the race is on for the most lucrative gambling license in Massachusetts. The plan to build a casino at the Suffolk Downs racetrack in Revere was approved by a wide margin on Tuesday, setting the stage for the racetrack and its operational partner Mohegan Sun to enter the competition for the Greater Boston casino license.

Victory for Revere

In a referendum that had fairly high turnout, about 63 percent of voters in the city supported the plan to build a casino on the Revere side of Suffolk Downs. The city had previously supported a plan to build a casino mostly on the East Boston side of the racetrack with similar – though slightly lower – levels of support.

That plan, however, was shot down by East Boston voters, who rejected the proposal. Now, the project has given second life to both local racetrack Suffolk Downs and its out-of-state partner Mohegan Sun; the Connecticut-based casino operator had previously lost a vote in Palmer last November.

Immediately after the first Suffolk Downs casino proposal lost in East Boston, the track owners and Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo began talks about a plan to move the casino entirely onto the Revere side of the property. After finding a willing partner in Mohegan Sun, a proposal for a $1.3 billion resort on the 42 acres of available land in Revere was formulated.

The plan faced many legal hurdles, as East Boston claimed the casino had already been defeated, while the city of Revere claimed it had already been approved by their voters. In the end, the state gambling commission said that this proposal should be treated as an entirely new venture, requiring a new vote from the city that would be hosting it. Now, with Tuesday’s referendum, that issue is finally put to bed once and for all.

Under the current arrangement, Suffolk Downs would act as a landlord for the proposed casino resort complex. Mohegan Sun will then own and operate the casino itself. Should they win the coveted license, Suffolk Downs has pledged to continue with thoroughbred racing at the track – something they have said may not be possible if they do not have the revenues the lease agreement would provide.
However, this vote does not in any way guarantee that a casino will be built in Revere. The plan is now in contention with one other –  a proposal in Everett for a casino built by Wynn Resorts – for the only license available in the Greater Boston area. An overwhelming 86 percent of Everett voters supported the Wynn casino plan in a referendum held last June. The winner will likely be chosen in May or June of this year.
Mayor Carlo DeMaria of Everett quickly responded to the vote in Revere by pointing out the level of support his town had offered their casino proposal.
“There’s no comparing Everett’s near 90 percent margin of victory to [the] vote in Revere, just as there’s no comparison to Wynn’s five-star brand,” DeMaria said.
However, Mohegan Sun pointed to the large turnout and support in Revere as a feather in their cap.
“More people voted yes for this casino tonight than voted in the entire election in Everett, is my understanding,” said Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority chief executive Mitchell Etess.
The approval of voters was a welcome change for the casino industry in Massachusetts, which last November was defeated in several locales, including those in East Boston, Palmer, Milford and West Springfield. However, the turnaround wasn’t much of a surprise: Revere fit the mold of the cities that had approved casino gambling, and continued the trend of casinos winning big when the vote went in their favor.