BOSTON (AP) - State gambling regulators on Thursday allowed Suffolk Downs more time to pursue its proposal for a casino that would sit entirely in Revere, while critics argued that East Boston's vote against the casino should halt the project immediately.
Members of the five-member commission acknowledged they were still wrestling with a variety of difficult legal and logistical issues arising from a proposal by Suffolk Downs to shift the project to Revere, where voters embraced a proposed casino, and the panel said more study was needed before making a final determination could be made.
"In the absence of any kind of stop sign, we're all systems go in Revere," said Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer of Suffolk Downs, after answering questions from commissioners.
Tuttle also confirmed on Thursday that Connecticut casino owner Mohegan Sun and Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming were among several firms that had discussed a possible casino partnership with Suffolk Downs. The racetrack cut ties with its previous operating partner, Caesar's Entertainment, after red flags were raised during a background check of the company.
Mohegan Sun's proposal for a resort casino in Palmer was narrowly rejected by voters on Nov. 5, though a recount is scheduled for next week. An affiliate of Rush Street dropped a bid in September to develop a slots parlor in Millbury.
Both firms have already cleared background checks with the commission - which could be a critical factor in Suffolk Downs' choice of a new operator. The commission has indicated that there may not be time to properly vet an entirely new gambling entity before the Dec. 31 deadline for final resort casino applications.
Suffolk Downs, a 78-year-old thoroughbred racetrack, originally proposed a casino that would be mostly in the East Boston neighborhood but would have parking and other facilities on the Revere side of the border. After the Nov. 5 votes in which East Boston said no to the casino while more than 60 percent of Revere voters said yes, Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo suggested that Suffolk Downs relocate the project so it would be entirely in his city.
"We did not expect East Boston to vote no. We were planning for two yes votes," Rizzo told the commission on Thursday.
But the host community agreement the city signed with Suffolk Downs, Rizzo said, "allows the project to move forward only in Revere."
Members of No Eastie Casino, a group that fought passage of the referendum in East Boston, decried the shift to Revere as a desperate last-ditch effort by Suffolk Downs to save a doomed casino proposal, and one that would run afoul of the state's 2011 gambling law and shake the confidence of Massachusetts residents in the integrity of the licensing process.
"We made our case to the voters honestly and by the rules," said Matthew Cameron, general counsel for the group. "Yet within hours of the polls closing, the city of Revere announced that we were no longer playing chess, we would all now be playing poker."
Commissioners appeared to be focusing on two key issues stemming from the proposed move. One was whether a provision in the host community agreement that allowed for expansion of a casino in Revere could be applied to an entirely new project; the other was a question of whether the horse track and the casino would be separate or combined facilities.
Suffolk Downs original proposal called for the casino and track to be part of the same establishment, but Tuttle said that would be impossible under the revised plan, and that the two facilities would have to be separate entities about a half-mile apart. The state law requires tracks that are awarded casino licenses to continue racing, but doesn't specify if the racing must occur on the same premises.
If its bid goes forward, Suffolk Downs could be in competition with Wynn Resorts in Everett for the sole eastern Massachusetts resort casino license. A third hopeful, a group led by Foxwoods, was eliminated Tuesday when Milford residents voted down the proposal.