Revere says yes to Mohegan Sun casino

REVERE — Mohegan Sun’s proposal to build a $1.3 billion gambling resort at Suffolk Downs won the strong endorsement of Revere voters Tuesday, reviving the racetrack’s casino aspirations and ensuring there will be a competition for the state’s most lucrative gambling license.

About 63 percent of city voters supported the plan to develop a casino on about 42 acres in Revere belonging to the track, a greater percentage than supported an earlier Suffolk Downs casino plan in November, according to city figures.

“We’re gamblers,” said Carol Trapani, 68, who visits Twin River casino in Rhode Island, with her husband, Gino, a few times a year. A resort casino “is going to go in somewhere, so it may as well go here in Revere.”

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The contest now moves to the state gambling commission, where Mohegan Sun will compete for the Greater Boston resort casino license with an Everett proposal from Wynn Resorts, with a winner to be chosen in May or June.

Tuesday’s victory offers a second chance for Mohegan Sun to win a gambling license in Massachusetts after the company lost a referendum in Palmer in November.

The vote represents a second chance, too, for Suffolk Downs, the thoroughbred racetrack that straddles the Revere-East Boston city line. The track, an early favorite to win the Greater Boston license, lost a casino referendum last November in East Boston.

Within hours of the November vote, Mayor Dan Rizzo of Revere began urging Suffolk Downs officials to move their project a few hundred yards so that it was located entirely within Revere, to get around East Boston’s vote. The track subsequently struck a deal with Mohegan Sun and the state gambling commission waived one of its rules to make Tuesday’s referendum possible.

The track would be the casino’s landlord under Mohegan Sun’s proposal, and has pledged that if Mohegan Sun wins the license. it will use its lease proceeds to preserve racing at the last thoroughbred track in New England.

The Revere vote breaks a string of bad news for the casino industry, which suffered election losses in West Springfield, Palmer, East Boston, and Milford. The strong victory is in line with a trend among successful casino projects in Massachusetts: Wherever they have won, the margins have been healthy.

Opponents had argued that a casino would bring traffic, crime and other problems.

The Rev. George Szal, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, stood on Broadway for a few hours Tuesday, holding two “No Casino” signs.

“Short-term gain, long-term pain,” Szal said, explaining his opposition. “This casino will not fulfill its promises. It might provide some jobs in the beginning, but they won’t last.”

After the results were in, Szal said opponents were disappointed but not ready to give up. “The struggle continues to eliminate predatory gambling in Massachusetts.”

Casino opponents will be before the Supreme Judicial Court this spring, looking for a ruling to allow them to place a repeal of the casino law on the statewide ballot in November.

John Ribeiro, chairman of the Repeal the Casino Deal campaign, said any Suffolk Downs casino proposal “should have died after voters in the actual host community soundly rejected it on Nov. 5.”

“The industry is merely plucking off cities devastated by the recession and buying loyalty on the promise of jobs and revenues we know from experience elsewhere will not materialize,” Ribeiro said in a statement.

Mohegan Sun’s competition, Wynn Resorts, won the support of 86 percent of Everett voters in a referendum last June.

In a statement after Tuesday’s vote, Mayor Carlo DeMaria of Everett said, “There’s no comparing Everett’s near 90 percent margin of victory to [Tuesday’s] vote in Revere, just as there’s no comparison to Wynn’s five-star brand, international drawing power or financial strength in the industry.”

After the polls closed Tuesday, Mohegan Sun officials were putting the best spin on their Revere victory.

“More people voted yes for this casino tonight than voted in the entire election in Everett, is my understanding,” said Mitchell Etess, chief executive of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, in comments to reporters. “I’m sure the gaming commission wants to make sure there is good support. I think [the] margin shows there is huge support here in Revere.”

About 44 percent of Revere voters turned out to cast ballots. Tuesday night, hundreds of casino supporters filled the Topsider Room at Suffolk Downs after the vote.

Chip Tuttle, the track’s chief operating officer, thanked unions for their support, before introducing Rizzo. “We had no bigger champion,” Tuttle said.

“We needed a yes vote and Revere delivered,” Rizzo said, as the crowd broke into a chant of “Yes! Yes! Yes!”