Wynn is In: Suffolk Downs Preparing to Do Battle

January 16, 2013
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Providing a bit of a surprise to those following the casino discussion, Las Vegas gaming magnate Steve Wynn put in a Phase I application and paid a $400,000 licensing fee to begin the quest for a Greater Boston (Region A) casino license – a quest that will put him in direct competition with early favorite Suffolk Downs, who also turned in paperwork on Monday.

Suffolk paid its $400,000 license fee last August.

Now, the coming and going of the initial filing deadline for the first-ever casino gaming license has resulted in what appears to be two of the biggest international faces in expanded gaming – Richard Fields and Steve Wynn – preparing to do battle in the backyards of Revere, Boston and Everett.

A total of seven companies filed applications by late Monday, including those of Wynn and Suffolk, and it was expected that more applications would be announced after the deadline on Tuesday at 5 p.m. That deadline came too late for Independent deadlines, but, nevertheless, no other competitors for the Greater Boston license were expected beyond Wynn and Suffolk.

Despite heavy competition for the western Massachusetts license, Suffolk – which has partnered with Caesar’s Entertainment – had been the lone interested party for quite some time in the Greater Boston area. All of that changed in late November when Wynn (who owns Wynn Resort and Casino in Las Vegas and a casino in Macau) re-entered the game. At that time, he virtually came out of left field with a proposal for a casino on a vacant parcel in Everett – a parcel formerly home to Monsanto Chemical many years ago – and received a warm welcome from Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria, Jr.

Wynn had unsuccessfully tried to bring a gaming complex to Foxboro with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft in 2011, but was tossed out of town by a disinterested electorate in Foxboro. After that, many believed Wynn was no longer interested in Massachusetts.

However, his entrance and, later, securing a lease on the Everett property seemed to suggest otherwise, though many still did not believe he was serious about the proposal.

Monday changed that for a lot of people and injected some unanticipated early competition for the Suffolk Downs proposal. Suffolk officials, though, said they never anticipated to be the lone applicant and were not surprised that Wynn came through.

“We have always anticipated competition in the region and known that we will have to earn a license on the merits of creating the most jobs, revenue and local business partnerships, having the premier site with access to major highways and public transportation, committing to the best local road and infrastructure improvements and preserving one of the area’s historic sporting landmarks and its existing workforce,” said Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer of Suffolk Downs.

Wynn’s entrance was so sudden and so recent that many of his plans for the site are still unknown. Last week, though, Wynn told the Boston Globe that he would build a $1 billion hotel tower on the site with a casino inside – housing about 300 to 500 rooms and being the “fanciest place in Boston.” He even touted it would have “short hallways” and “fast elevators” and would face the Boston skyline.

Wynn also pointed to the nearly flawless financial positioning of his company, as compared to some recent financial blips by Suffolk’s gaming partner, Caesar’s.

He also has the initial support of Everett Mayor DeMaria and some other local Everett officials. DeMaria cemented his approval of the casino plan in a statement on Monday that indicated Everett was ready to find common ground amidst the excitement.

“I am very pleased that Mr. Wynn has filed an application with the Gaming Commission,” said DeMaria. “I look forward to open, honest and forthright conversations between the administration, business owners, residents and the developer. I know that this is a very exciting time for the City of Everett and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and could lead to great things for our community.”

That said, most of Wynn’s plans are still in the design phase, and not much is known about his ideas for traffic mitigation. Though DeMaria has held a public meeting, Wynn has yet to schedule any public meetings in Everett. In fact, he has really only detailed his plans publicly to the Globe.

That is in stark contrast to Suffolk Downs, which has seemingly been drawing up casino plans for the past decade. On Monday, Suffolk officials played up the fact that they are home to state’s only thoroughbred racing track and that they have been in the community for more than 70 years. They also pointed to the fact that they have had numerous public meetings, including two very detailed public meetings on traffic mitigation last fall.

“The process of earning a license requires significant investment and substantial resources and we have worked with our partners at Caesars Entertainment to assemble a best-in-class team as we move toward a second phase of larger public review of our plans to create thousands of jobs and improve the local economy,” said Joe O’Donnell, a principal owner of Suffolk Downs and a Cambridge-based entrepreneur and philanthropist who actually hails from Everett.

Added Suffolk principle owner Richard Fields, “This is an economic development initiative that will set the standard for gaming development in Massachusetts and will create thousands of new jobs with real career paths and room for advancement. And it is built on a foundation of collaboration and partnership — with local residents and community groups; with local businesses; and with Boston’s entertainment, tourism and convention facilities.”

Suffolk also drew attention to the fact that it has hired former Boston Police Commissioner Paul Evans to head up security at the facility, and that Evans has already started meeting with law enforcement in Boston and Revere.

Suffolk rolled out plans and designs for its $1 billion resort casino last June, with a hotel, casino and other amenities connected to the historic horse track.

Principle owners for the Suffolk proposal were identified as Fields, O’Donnell, Gary Loveman (of Caesar’s) and Tuttle.

Other applicants to the MGC on Monday were mostly competing for the western Massachusetts license (Region B). They were MGM Springfield, Penn National Gaming, Hard Rock MA, and Mohegan Sun (to be in Palmer).

The Region C license, in southwestern Massachusetts and Cape Cod, is reserved for the Wampanoag American Indian tribe – who is still working out details on their process.

Plainridge Racecourse had applied for the one, statewide slots-only license. It was expected that Raynham Dog Track and one other entity would also apply for the slots license. The review for that license will take place first, according to the MGC, and will be awarded by the end of this year.

A total of 11 entities participated in Scope of Licensing meeting with MGC investigators and representatives last year.

The MGC expects the Phase 1 application investigation to last some six to eight months. That will be followed by a much more stringent Phase 2 process, which is still being designed by the MGC. Phase 2 regulations are due to be released this summer.

The first resort-casino license is expected to be awarded on or before Feb. 26, 2014. Any casino development is expected to be fully open, perhaps, by 2016.