City begins talking up casino plan
More than 1,000 residents turned out at four public forums called by Mayor Daniel Rizzo to solicit community input on how Revere should spend the millions of dollars it anticipates receiving if Suffolk Downs is granted a casino license.
The ideas from residents, coupled with those offered by city officials, will form the basis of the proposal the city puts forward for a host agreement in its upcoming talks with Suffolk Downs, located in Revere and East Boston.
Rizzo said he hopes to begin formal talks as early as the next few weeks, with the hope of holding a voter referendum on the casino agreement as early as September. The application can go forward only if the ballot questions pass in Revere and Boston.
“I’ve been a proponent of expanded gaming at Suffolk Downs since I first joined the City Council 13 years ago,’’ said Rizzo, who took office as mayor in January. “It’s something we’ve been waiting for, for a long time.’’
Rizzo said his conversations with residents lead him to believe there is majority support for a casino at Suffolk Downs. He said, however, that the forums were intended to allow residents - for or against the casino - to suggest how the city should spend the money it receives.
“I wanted to be sure the city of Revere did its due diligence and that we had complete transparency with the public,’’ he said.
John Festa, the city’s director of economic development, said that suggested uses of funds offered during the community input process included replacing the town’s antiquated public works facility and creating new open spaces.
Festa said he planned to submit to Rizzo a preliminary proposal incorporating some of the ideas. He said final details, including cost figures, would be developed in the coming weeks.
While he could not estimate how much the city will be seeking, Festa said, “we also realize that if we want a casino to go to Suffolk Downs, there’s got to be a balanced approach.’’
Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer of Suffolk Downs, said, “We anticipate that our development, if successful, will have a very positive impact on the city in terms of job creation, business opportunities, tourism benefits, and direct benefits in terms of the host community agreement.’’
Suffolk Downs has estimated that when a casino resort is at full operation, with hotels, restaurants, retail, gambling, entertainment, and horse racing, it would spend about $200 million a year on local goods and services, Tuttle said.
While Festa said the city has concerns, particularly about traffic, Tuttle said developers have committed to spending up to $40 million on road and infrastructure improvements along routes 1A and 16. And while no specific job figures have been established, Tuttle cited a report by the Spectrum Gaming Group, used by the Legislature, that estimated three casinos in the state would create up to 13,000 permanent jobs.
Under the casino law passed last year, license applicants must negotiate impact agreements with host and surrounding communities, spelling out funding and other benefits they would provide if licensed.
Those resources would be in addition to what the communities would receive through a separate provision of the law that sets aside a portion of the state’s share of gambling revenues to offset casino costs incurred by host and surrounding communities, Tuttle said.
Agreements with host communities - for Suffolk Downs, that would be Revere and Boston - must be in place before required ballot referendums are held in those communities on whether to accept a casino.
The law provides for three licenses for resort-style casinos in the state - one in each of three designated regions - and a license for a slot machine parlor, to be awarded by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission that was recently established.
Suffolk Downs plans to apply for the casino in this region of the state, in partnership with Caesars Entertainment, which operates casinos in Las Vegas and elsewhere. The only competition in the same region so far is the Foxborough casino proposed by Patriots owner Bob Kraft in partnership with Steve Wynn, who has developed several casinos in Las Vegas.
Tuttle said that the law leaves it to the Gaming Commission to determine which communities, in addition to the host cities and towns, casino applicants must negotiate agreements with. But he said based on their proximity, Suffolk Downs anticipates negotiating with Chelsea and Winthrop.
He said the company has had informal discussions with Revere, Boston, Chelsea, and Winthrop “about the process, and the fact that we are looking forward to formally talking about those agreements.’’
John Laidler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.