The biggest winner in Monday’s Foxboro election appears to be a race track 33 miles away.
A resounding anti-casino message at the ballot box convinced moguls Steve Wynn and Robert Kraft to abandon their plans for a $1 billion resort across Route 1 from Gillette Stadium and Patriot Place.
That immediately made Suffolk Downs, an East Boston horse track, the presumptive favorite to land the lucrative Greater Boston casino license, one of three authorized by the state’s new Expanded Gaming Act.
“Suffolk Downs is the immediate beneficiary of the Kraft/Wynn withdrawal from Foxboro,” said Clyde W. Barrow, director of the UMass Dartmouth Center for Policy, which has been studying the New England gaming landscape for more than 15 years.
“It certainly appears that Suffolk Downs is the favorite,” said Richard McGowan, a Boston College economist who studies gaming, “but it too will have to satisfy certain conditions from the city of Boston and Revere as well as concerns from a neighboring town such as Winthrop. So they have an easier time but they had better make a very good case for their proposal.”
With the backing of industry giant Caesars Entertainment and the strong support of Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Suffolk Downs is proposing a $1 billion resort casino.
Suffolk officials did no gloating in the wake of the Foxboro decision.
“Our approach to this project — that we are going to have to earn a license based on the merits of our development proposal to create a world-class destination in a world-class city — is unchanged,” Chief Operating Officer Chip Tuttle said in a statement. “Our focus remains working with our neighbors in East Boston and Revere to ensure our proposed development delivers jobs, road improvements, tourism growth and other economic benefits.”
While Suffolk’s road to gaining the license got easier with Wynn’s withdrawal, it’s certainly not without potholes. The only other announced plan for the region has been put forward by developer David Nunes, who is proposing an $850 million casino off Route 495 in Milford, and he has no intention of going away.
“I absolutely will give (Suffolk) a challenge — unequivocally,” he told the Boston Herald.
And there could be more contenders, as well. “There are still a couple of wild cards out there with regard to the eastern region,” said Roger Gros, publisher of Global Gaming Business Magazine. “Massachusetts native and Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson is waiting in the weeds and could announce something before the deadline. Also, MGM’s withdrawal from the town where they wanted to place a casino in the western region could indicate that they are also looking once again at the eastern region. After all, this will be the state’s most lucrative casino.”
McGowan agreed that Adelson, previously linked to a casino proposal in Marlboro, could be a player for the Greater Boston license.
“If there is a major casino operator that could give Suffolk Downs competition for the Boston license it would be the Sands Corp.,” McGowan said. “Sheldon Adelson is a Dorchester native so he knows the area well, but he so far has not shown his hand.”
Spokesmen for Wynn did not respond when asked if he would consider another location in Massachusetts, but Gros said he doubted it.
“Based on his previous history in bidding for licenses or buying properties, I don’t believe Wynn will spend any more time on Massachusetts,” Gros said. “He’s got a lot more on his plate right now, including a new casino in Macau and an ongoing battle with (a) former board member.
“Wynn only goes for the best situation in any jurisdiction and he believed he had that in Foxboro. Like the other casino operators, he knows finding a site in the eastern region of Massachusetts was going to be difficult.”
Wynn’s withdrawal from Foxboro also could make it more likely that a harness racing track in Plainville or a former dog track in Raynham will land the state’s only license for a slot parlor, but probably won’t have much impact on native American bids for tribal casinos in Freetown, Lakeville and Taunton.
“It makes it more likely that the slot parlor will be located at one of the tracks in southeastern Massachusetts,” located only five and 20 miles, respectively, from Gillette Stadium, Barrow said.
On the other hand, “I don’t think it impacts (the proposed tribal sites), except to make (them) more lucrative to potential investors.” Barrow said.