December 3, 2015
by Lynne Snierson, Blood-Horse

A ballot question that would allow a slot machine parlor near Suffolk Downs has cleared a hurdle and could appear on the statewide Massachusetts ballot in November. But the measure does not have the backing of racetrack management and the New England affiliate of the Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association.

The petition to change the state’s 2011 expanded gambling law, which allows only one slots facility statewide and up to three destination resort casinos in geographically segregated areas of the state, is being championed by a little-known real estate developer based in Thailand.

Eugene McCain, who has no ties to racing, has been trying to build support for his plan calling for a second slots parlor to be located within 1,500 feet of a horse racing track. The Massachusetts Secretary of State’s office reported that McCain filed paperwork with the required minimum of 64,750 certified signatures by the Dec. 2 deadline.

There is another racetrack currently operating in the state. Penn National Gaming Inc.’s Plainridge Park Casino holds the slots parlor license and hosts live Standardbred racing. But in recent months, McCain reportedly has been negotiating deals to buy a trailer park and other real estate in the shadow of Suffolk Downs.

Since rumors of McCain’s plan began to circulate in August, Suffolk Downs’ management and the horsemen have steadfastly maintained that neither entity is involved with McCain or is in favor of his plan.

“We have been clear that Suffolk Downs has nothing to do with this ballot question and that we will not support it,” Suffolk Downs COO Chip Tuttle said. “I don’t foresee any circumstances under which that would change.”

In September 2014 the Massachusetts Gaming Commission voted against granting the single casino license designated for the Boston area to Mohegan Sun, which was partnered with Suffolk Downs and proposed to develop a $1 billion casino on the part of the racetrack grounds. Instead, the MGC favored the Wynn Resorts proposal to build a $1.75 billion casino only two miles from Suffolk’s stable gate.

McCain’s plan also faces strong opposition from PNGI, Wynn Resorts, and MGM, which holds the casino license for the western region of the state. The Wynn and MGM casinos are expected to open in 2018, and officials from all three gaming titans have said that when they applied for their licenses and planned their considerable investments in the properties it was with the clear mandate that there would be only one slots parlor in the state.

PNGI purchased the former Plainridge Park harness track for close to $50 million after winning what is currently legislated as the sole slots license and then the company invested another $250 million in the new facility. Since its successful June opening, revenues have been declining sharply every month since and the casino is not on track to reach projections for its first year of operation, according to the MGC.