BOSTON — Managers at Suffolk Downs racetrack on Tuesday defended their decision to choose Caesars Entertainment as the operator of their proposed casino — just two weeks after Suffolk Downs dropped Caesars due to reports of alleged ties to organized crime.
The racetrack has promised to have a new casino operator by the end of the year, but admits it probably won’t have one in place by Tuesday, when voters in East Boston and Revere will decide in a referendum whether to approve Suffolk’s proposed $1.1 billion casino.
At a Massachusetts Gaming Commission hearing Friday morning, Suffolk Downs managers were asked why they didn’t catch the issues with Caesars earlier.
Thomas Reilly, the former state attorney general testifying on behalf of the track, said it trusted Caesars, and that Caesars violated that trust.
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“There’s no need to be surprised by something like this but that’s exactly what happened,” he said. “And what happened was that Suffolk was blindsided by this but acted very quickly to deal with it.”
Reilly said Suffolk officials did not learn about the issues until Oct. 2 — two weeks before they dropped Caesars as their operator.
But Commissioner James McHugh questioned why Caesars was chosen in the first place, when it was being investigated by Nevada regulators over a gambler who said he was fed alcohol and prescription drugs by Caesars staff while losing nearly $15 million.
“Would that have been of concern to you if you had learned it?” McHugh asked Suffolk Downs executive Charles Baker.
“Yes, sir,” Baker replied, adding that he could not remember if he was informed of the allegations during the vetting process.
“Is it the kind of conduct you would want your partner to engage in?” McHugh continued.
After the meeting, casino opponents praised the tough questions. But they say their best bet at defeating the proposal lies with next week’s referendum.
Complicating the matter is that Caesars is still listed as Suffolk Downs’ partner on the ballot.
State election officials say that could open the results up to a legal challenge. But they say the vote will go forward, because the ballots have already been printed and some people have already filed absentee votes.
Suffolk Downs COO Chip Tuttle says he remains confident voters will support the casino, citing the track’s promise to uphold agreements with its host communities, Boston and Revere.
“If you thought 4,000 jobs with local hiring preferences was a good idea two weeks ago, you probably still think it’s a good idea this week,” he said. “The change in operators hasn’t seemed to change anybody’s point of view.”
The commission says it will make a decision soon on whether Suffolk Downs can continue with its casino application.