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Revere vote sets stage for showdown, with repeal effort looming


By Andy Metzger


STATE HOUSE — A victory for casino proponents in Revere Tuesday sets up a likely final licensing showdown between Wynn Resorts in Everett and Mohegan Sun on the Revere-side of Suffolk Downs.

“Today marks an important milestone in our efforts to bring a spectacular destination resort to the city of Revere. Mohegan Sun is proud to have earned the strong support from Revere and our surrounding communities, and we are honored to call this city home,” Mohegan Tribal Gaming CEO Mitchell Etess said in a statement.

Revere voted 7,171 – 4,172, or 63.2 percent in favor of the resort casino, with turnout at 44.26 percent, a greater margin of victory with more people voting than a similar question in November, which passed in Revere 6,566 – 4,232.

The Nov. 5 vote on a proposed casino straddling the Revere and East Boston city lines on the site of the Suffolk Downs racecourse was defeated by East Boston voters, causing proponents – then without a casino partner – to scramble and ask the Massachusetts Gaming Commission for the ability to proceed with their plans on only the Revere portion of the site.

Over the objections of casino opponents, who believe the November vote should have jettisoned the project, the Gaming Commission allowed the city to vote again. Mohegan Sun, whose carefully crafted plans for a casino in Palmer were also rejected on Nov. 5, quickly joined forces with the track owners.

The results pits Etess, who runs a major casino resort in Connecticut, against Steve Wynn, who has familial roots in Revere and a casino empire in Las Vegas and Macau.

“There’s no comparing Everett’s near-90 percent margin of victory to tonight’s vote in Revere, just as there’s no comparison to Wynn’s 5-star brand, international drawing power or financial strength in the industry,” Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria said after Revere voters okayed the gaming development.

The East Boston horse track has long hoped to add more gambling opportunities at the track, which opened in 1935, not far from Revere Beach. Caesars Entertainment had been the original partner of Suffolk as it sought to secure the region’s lone casino license, but the development of a critical report by Gaming Commission background investigators prompted the two companies to part ways.

Mohegan had announced its plans for Palmer, south of the Quabbin Reservoir, in October 2009, and then quickly turning its attention to Revere in November.

“We needed a yes vote and Revere delivered,” Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo said in a televised victory party. He said, “The best is yet to come for Revere. This is our time.”

The host community agreement anticipates a $1 billion development that generates $1 billion in gross gaming revenue when it reaches maturity and requires 2,500 construction jobs and 4,000 permanent jobs. The agreement would fund infrastructure projects and send millions to the city over the years, including an initial $6 million payment.

“I congratulate the city of Revere for approving its casino referendum today, said Roy Avallaneda, who is running for a vacant House seat in a neighboring district representing part of Chelsea and Charlestown, in a statement. "I will support Revere’s efforts to gain a gaming license from the state, and for the Charlestown residents to have the opportunity to redesign Sullivan Square into a gateway to Boston instead of an off-ramp for the Wynn casino in Everett."

Meanwhile, the group Repeal the Casino Deal has collected signatures in its effort to wipe the 2011 gaming law from the books. Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office has ruled the repeal question constitutionally ineligible for the ballot, arguing it would disenfranchise prospective developers who have spent millions seeking a license under the new law. The Supreme Judicial Court is expected to hear arguments this spring.

“Today’s vote proves why casinos need to be repealed in the Commonwealth. This proposal should have died after voters in the actual host community soundly rejected it on November 5. Now the deep-pocketed casino industry has contorted itself into knots to fit this ill-advised project into Revere that will have a far deeper negative impact on East Boston and surrounding communities,” Repeal the Casino Deal Chairman John Ribeiro, a Winthrop resident, said in a statement. “The industry is merely plucking off cities devastated by the recession and buying loyalty on the promise of jobs and revenues we know from experience elsewhere will not materialize.”

Aside from Everett and Revere, the cities of Springfield, Taunton, New Bedford, Fall River and the town of Bridgewater all remain potential casino sites – with MGM Springfield currently undergoing the licensure process as the lone contender for the western Massachusetts license.

Ahead of the gaming law’s passage in November 2011, a chief argument in favor of legalizing casinos and slot machines in Massachusetts was the stream of residents driving south to wager at Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods in Connecticut, and Twin River in Rhode Island.

“The reality is, what’s going on in Massachusetts today is hundreds of millions of dollars are leaving Massachusetts, and they are going to Connecticut and they are going to Rhode Island,” Kathi-Anne Reinstein, then a state representative from Revere, said as part of her arguments in favor of expanded gaming on the House floor in September 2011.