Saturday, 2:15 PM
Suffolk Downs, Wonderland form partnership
(Globe file photos)
By Matt Viser, Globe Staff
Suffolk Downs and Wonderland Greyhound Park agreed today to form a partnership to "protect the thousands of existing jobs" at both race tracks and strengthen their position to build a resort-style casino if the state expands gambling, according to a joint statement.
By joining forces, the tracks gain significant economic benefits they lack as separate entities. Wonderland gains the greater financial strength of its East Boston counterpart, while Suffolk gains access to potentially lucrative development opportunities in Revere.
“We have been working on this kind of agreement for a while, but the time has been well spent because we now have gotten it right," said Richard Fields, Suffolk Downs’ principal shareholder.
Discussions of a partnership between the principal owners at the two tracks - Charles Sarkis at Wonderland and Fields at Suffolk Downs - have been ongoing for nearly two years, but issues have come up each time to halt the discussions. Last November, the two men agreed on terms before the Suffolk officials opted out because they thought the agreement was too generous to Sarkis.
In today's statement, Sarkis said, “All along during discussions with Suffolk Downs, we had one big goal in mind: protect the jobs of nearby residents who, in many cases, have spent their whole lives working at this facility."
Combining the two tracks could also make a clearer case for a casino license in Greater Boston, if Governor Deval Patrick decides in January to refile his legislation to license three casinos in Massachusetts. The two tracks, located just 2 miles from one another, positioning themselves for the same casino license was a constant distraction during the debate and contributed to the proposal's defeat in March, according to proponents. Track owners have exchanged documents outlining the terms they would agree to and spelling out areas that need negotiating.
Suffolk Downs was seen as the leading contender for a Boston-area casino, with a politically connected ownership group and a large tract of land within minutes of Logan International Airport. Wonderland has a much smaller plot of land - 36 acres at Wonderland compared to 163 acres at Suffolk - and Suffolk also has an aggressive lobbying team and support from Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino.
But Wonderland was a pesky second option, and owners held casino partnership discussions with a wide number of investors, including Donald Trump, Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun, and the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe of Martha's Vineyard. In the end, the track did not strongly support the casino legislation and put its weight instead behind an ill-fated plan to provide slot machines at the state's four race tracks.
Several legislators, as well as Menino, have suggested one upside to an agreement is that it would allow the owners at the two tracks to focus on the bill's passage instead of on battling one another.
Dog racing in Massachusetts faces an uncertain future, with a ballot question in November proposing to ban the business.
The track has also run into financial problems. Last week, Wonderland owners expressed regret over a two-year, $789,293 tax delinquency that triggered foreclosure proceedings and took to arranging a payment plan.
Until both sides agree to a payment plan, the city will continue foreclosing and consider revoking liquor, restaurant, and parking licenses.
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