12/26/2013 2:21PM

Suffolk Downs: Mohegan Sun deal keeps casino hope alive

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EAST BOSTON, Mass. – Hope remained alive for the continuation of live racing and breeding in New England after Mohegan Sun and the city of Revere, Mass., reached a host community agreement that would fill the city’s coffers with up to $30 million annually and include an upfront payment of $33 million from a proposed destination resort casino at Suffolk Downs.

The deal, reached on Dec. 23, must be approved by voters in a referendum to be scheduled for mid-February. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission earlier issued a waiver to allow Mohegan Sun to proceed with its Phase 2 application to develop the $1 billion gaming facility even though election results would not be available by the initial Dec. 31 deadline.

The commission ruled in favor of a new ballot question after there were mixed results from Nov. 5 referenda in Revere and East Boston, two adjacent cities where Suffolk Downs is located. East Boston voters resoundingly rejected the planned casino while those in Revere overwhelmingly approved it. The split decision resulted in the relocation of the project entirely to the Revere side of the racetrack grounds and subsequently Mohegan Sun, which lost a referendum to develop a casino in the western Massachusetts town of Palmer, joining forces with Suffolk Downs.

Passage of the agreement at the ballot box is crucial to the continuation of live racing at the 78-year old track, which is the sole surviving Thoroughbred facility in New England. Under Suffolk’s deal with Mohegan Sun, the casino giant would own 100 percent of the casino and operate it while Suffolk would be the landlord.

State law requires that racing and gaming must remain separate entities, and the backside, which sits entirely on the Revere side of the property, would have to be relocated elsewhere.

Richard Fields, the principal owner of the track, has maintained that Suffolk would like to continue to offer live racing. But track officials, who applied for 2014 racing dates, have also been candid in saying that unless Mohegan Sun is successful in winning the lone casino license designated for the Boston area, the odds are against the continuation of live racing.

Wynn Resorts, which proposed a $1.2 billion casino in the nearby city of Everett, is the other applicant for that license and overwhelmingly won its referendum in June. The gaming commission hopes to award the license by May.