June 28, 2016
Lynne Snierson, Blood-Horse

A statewide referendum to allow a slot-machine parlor adjacent to Suffolk Downs will move forward after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled June 28 the question can be on the November ballot. But neither the racetrack’s owners nor local horsemen are behind the initiative.

The state Supreme Court decided that the ballot question, which calls for authorization of a second slots parlor in the state to be located adjacent to and within 1,500 feet of an existing racetrack, was properly certified.

Eugene McCain, a real estate developer who is based in Thailand and has no ties to Suffolk Downs or the Massachusetts Thoroughbred industry, is pushing the measure. McCain has been trying to buy a mobile home park and other property near the racetrack, reportedly, and has proposed building a slots parlor and hotel adjacent to Suffolk Downs.

“Unfortunately, the people behind this ballot initiative continue to take advantage of proximity to our property to mislead the public that Suffolk Downs is somehow involved or that racing here is a potential beneficiary of their actions, neither of which has a shred of substance or credibility,” said Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer of Suffolk Downs.

The Massachusetts expanded gambling law passed in 2011 currently allows three commercial destination resort casinos in geographically segregated areas of the state and one slots parlor that can be located anywhere.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has awarded Category 1 casino licenses to Wynn Resorts for the Greater Boston region and to MGM for the western region. Both of those full casino projects are in development. The Category 2 slots parlor license was awarded to Penn National Gaming Inc., which opened the new Plainridge Park Casino at the state’s only harness racing track one year ago.

The MGC decided not to issue the third Category 1 license designated for the southeastern region of the state, where the federally recognized Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is building a Native American casino.

Suffolk Downs’ ownership group is planning a redevelopment of the racetrack grounds, though it will host six days of live racing this year beginning July 9-10. After the MGC awarded in 2014 the single Boston-area casino license to Steve Wynn rather than to Mohegan Sun, Suffolk’s former gaming partner, Suffolk management announced that live racing was no longer economically viable and the property was to be redeveloped.

The statewide ballot question is expected to draw strong opposition from Wynn Resorts, MGM, and PNGI, which have stated in the past that they invested in Massachusetts given the parameters of the expanded gambling regulations at the time. Should the ballot measure pass in November, the MGC would be authorized, but not required, to issue the second slots parlor license.