Massachusetts Gaming Commission

The Massachusetts Gaming Commissioners – and don’t they look like a fun-loving bunch – have some tough decisions ahead of them (Image: Josh Reynolds/AP)

Is it dead, or is it alive? That’s the question everyone in Massachusetts is asking about the Suffolk Downs casino plan, which is currently in a state of limbo reminiscent of Schrödinger’s cat. And while a recent meeting of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission may have given a few clues as to which way that board is leaning, it still provided no firm answers on whether or not the project is being considered as viable.

Whose Casino Is It, Anyway?

That meeting, which took place earlier this week in a South Boston convention center, was meant to determine whether or not Suffolk Downs and new partner Mohegan Sun could move forward with an alternative plan to build a casino. While the original plan to build in East Boston was shot down by that community, the neighboring town of Revere – also designated as a host for the project – voted in favor, which has led the race track to attempt to modify the project and locate it entirely in Revere instead.

That has left the state’s gaming commission with two questions to answer. First, they need to determine whether it is okay for Suffolk Downs to come up with an alternate plan after their first plan was defeated at the ballot box. According to reports, it appeared as though the majority of the commission was okay with that move; after all, if one community approved the plan, there was likely at least some interest.

But a second question is proving thornier. The commission must also determine whether or not the Revere vote can be applied to a new project: one that has a new partner in Mohegan Sun, and which will take place entirely on land in Revere. This was not the plan voted on when residents took to the polls on November 5th, yet it seems as though at least some commission members were willing to assume that Revere would have approved the new plan as well.

“What they voted on is clearly not what’s on the table now,” said Gaming Commission chairman Steve Crosby. “But what they didn’t know wouldn’t have changed their vote.”

Re-Vote Could Be Necessary

That declaration doesn’t sit well with everyone, with at least one commentator saying that Crosby would need to have clairvoyance to know what the result would be on a vote that never happened. Gaming Commissioner James McHugh suggested that a second vote in Revere might be necessary in order to determine the will of the voters.

But that appeared to be a minority opinion on the five-member panel, which left some observers with the impression that they might come down on the side of Suffolk Downs. A final decision will come at the gaming commission’s meeting in the coming week.

There’s also the issue of whether Boston would still be considered a host community if the commission were to approve the Revere-only plan. At least one prominent voice says that they should be.

“I’m at a little bit of a loss to see how Boston would still not be a host community, given the fact that the casino proposal is just sliding some buildings over a few hundred feet,” said attorney Brian Leary, who chaired the committee that negotiated the original East Boston host community agreement with Suffolk Downs. “If Boston’s not a host community in their eyes, I’d like to see why they think that.”

If Boston were granted host community status (as opposed to “surrounding” community status), then Suffolk Downs would have to negotiate with the city again over revenue-sharing and other issues before they could move forward with applying for the area’s casino license. It’s worth noting that Revere was considered a host community for the East Boston casino plan, despite the fact that no buildings and no primary parking areas would have been located in Revere.