BOSTON — Voters in East Boston on Tuesday dealt a major setback to developers seeking to build a casino in their community.
Suffolk Downs racetrack was an early favorite to win voter approval of its $1 billion casino proposal. It outspent opponents nearly 50 to 1 — $2 million versus $40,000. But the long-shot opponents, a coalition of churches and grassroots community organizations, rallied for a come-from-behind victory, defeating the proposal 56 to 44 percent.
But an effort to salvage the plan is already brewing. Because the site straddles both East Boston and Revere, voters in both communities had a say. And Revere voters approved it 61 to 39 percent. In total, more people actually voted in support of the proposal — 9,919 “yes” votes to 8,513 “no” votes.
Suffolk Downs CEO Chip Tuttle calls that a split decision and Tuesday night suggested he would explore building the casino on the part of his property that lies in Revere.
“Given that we had such a positive result in Revere and given that we really do want to preserve this 78-year-old sporting landmark here, we’re going to explore those options,” Tuttle said.
Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo says 53 acres of the Suffolk Downs track lie in Revere — that’s a larger site than the competing casino proposal in Everett, which is about 36 acres.
“We’ve got more than enough space over there to potentially reshape the project and move it Revere only,” Rizzo said. “Our community wants it. We recognize the benefits that come with $1 billion of local investment and we’re going to continue to pursue every avenue that we can to bring this to fruition.”
Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chair Steve Crosby said that while the commission would be willing to look at a new proposal, the current one is dead.
“The law is absolutely clear that any host community that turns down a proposal in a referendum that is definitive and dispositive,” Crosby said. “I know there’s been talk about whether they can reconfigure somehow or other and only be in Revere and frankly that isn’t something we had even thought about yet.”
Celeste Myers, co-chair of No Eastie Casino campaign, says she has a plan to defeat any new proposal.
“The gaming commission would hold to the language in the legislation that says if any developer is denied that they go back to the drawing board at least, respin it, respin the plan and go through the process all over again,” Myers said. “And for the new mayor elect of the city of Boston and our City Council, I would expect them to take East Boston’s response of ‘no’ for an answer.”