Now that the state Gaming Commission has awarded the Boston-area casino license to Wynn Resorts for its proposal in Everett, Suffolk Downs race track will probably soon be history.
That's because the losing bidder in the casino competition, Mohegan Sun, wanted to build on track property in Revere — and its large lease payments would have been a financial lifeline for Suffolk Downs.
WBUR's Sacha Pfeiffer spoke with the track's chief operating officer, Chip Tuttle, about the commission's decision.
Chip Tuttle: I'm very, very disappointed. It's a devastating day for the people who work here, and those are our direct employees, and also the hundreds of very hard-working men and women who take care of the horses. These are people who generally run their own small businesses and it's remarkably unfortunate that this action puts 1,100 jobs and 1,100 families in considerable risk. I don't see a way for this racing operation to continue absent the advantages of expanded gaming on the property.
Sacha Pfeiffer: What has the reaction been so far among employees, among the jockeys, among the other staff at the track?
They're very, very nervous. We're not racing today but there are people here today in the administrative offices and the Gaming Commission offices and our maintenance department, and there's a lot of very shook-up, very sad people here. They're trying to figure out what they're going to do over the next several months. Not everyone is cut out for the Innovation Economy, and the people who work here embody that. So we've got some very hard-working but low-skilled folks here for whom this is going to be an incredibly difficult transition.
You've mentioned that about 1,000 jobs could be lost, and Wynn Resorts estimates that its casino could create maybe four times what the track will lose. Is that at all a comfort or is that at best a cold comfort?
No, that's a cold comfort. You heard Commissioner [James] McHugh today talk about whether or not the Wynn project might ever happen [due to] the risks involved with the Wynn project. The Mohegan Sun project would have created over 2,000 permanent jobs — about 2,400 permanent jobs — in addition to the 1,100 racing jobs. So I don't think the delta between the two projects is that great, and if you factor in that the Wynn job creation over there would end up resulting in job loss and the loss of family farms and the loss of working open space. I think people look at the track and they see this building that's been here for a long time and the place where Sea Biscuit was discovered and the Beatles played and things like that, but this is actually an industry that touches every corner of the commonwealth.
Because Massachusetts voters may end up repealing the casino law in November, it's not certain that Wynn ultimately will build a casino in Everett, and even if Revere had won it's not certain that a casino would ultimately have been built at Suffolk Downs. Does that soften the blow at all?
Not really. I mean, we've been supportive of expanded gaming in the commonwealth for a long time for valid economic development reasons, but parochially we had always hoped that that expanded gaming would include Suffolk Downs. I actually think the good reasons for gaming expanding in the commonwealth still exist — the job creation, the revenue recapture. I just think the commission's decision today doesn't really take into account the people who work here and the costs that they're going to have to bear because of this decision.
This segment aired on September 16, 2014.