(NECN: Peter Howe, Boston) Plainridge Racecourse workers and Plainville residents erupted in joy Friday afternoon as Penn National executives arrived at the harness racing track and simulcast hall with a giant mockup of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission license that lets them turn the horse track into a slots parlor.
Penn National CEO Tim Wilmott said he wants to waste no time starting construction on the 1,250 slot machines, Doug Flutie Sports Pub, and other amenities that will make up the $225 million Plainridge Park Casino, as the facility will be called when it opens, projected now to be the second quarter of 2015.
“We’re going to have a team of people from Penn National, from the construction side of our operations, here Monday to begin planning,’’ Wilmott said. “I should know by the end of next week or early into the following week when we're going to have groundbreaking and get started with creating a thousand new construction jobs as quickly as we possibly can.’’
“It’s just euphoric,’’ Lenny Calderone, the track announcer and simulcast director, said as track employees celebrated. “People crying, excitement – it’s been a long road for everybody, and we're just happy that the right decision was made, and we've got a bright future ahead of us right now.’’
While 76 percent of Plainville voters backed the slots parlor, 24 percent did not, and opponents at No Plainville Racino are looking this weekend at possible legal options. One question is, because Penn National took over the project just three days before the town vote -– after principal track owner Gary Piontkowski was pushed out after Gaming Commission investigators discovered he’d been making highly irregular cash withdrawals from the track money room – could slots parlor opponents get a judge to rule that the town vote violated the requirement the town have 60 days to review the slots parlor pact before voting. Town officials have argued, and the Gaming Commission has essentially agreed, that the key question on the town ballot was whether voters did or did not want a slots parlor there, and who exactly owned and developed the gambling hall was secondary.
Activists are also hanging hopes on the group Repeal The Casino Deal’s push to get a referendum on the November 2014 ballot to repeal the November 2011 casino law outright. John Ribeiro, chairman of Repeal The Casino Deal, said, “Tim Wilmott made more than $8 million last year and his company ‘earned’ $3 billion in revenue, so it’s very telling that his welcome to Massachusetts includes a plan to crush volunteer activists now threatening his profit margin. The casino industry’s empty promises may have bamboozled the governor, legislature, Gaming Commission and a handful of struggling cities, but convincing voters across the state that any of this amounts to ‘destination resort casinos’ is vastly different. The people of Massachusetts are waking up to the reality that this is bad economic development that won't help these struggling cities, and that casinos of convenience only benefit millionaire casino owners like Tim Wilmott, because the good people of Massachusetts lose. Voters know we can do better than this, and we’re confident Goliath, despite this big roar, can and will be taken down when the people have a right to vote.”
Wilmott said in an interview before Ribeiro’s statement that “we won’t slow down” construction because of the threatened ballot question, and “if there is a ballot question, we’re going to fight for the right outcome. We have a lot of experience with political battles in other parts of the United States, and we feel confident we're going to get the right outcome here.’’
“We see the polling as well,’’ Wilmott said. “We think a lot of the issues that have been in the voters’ minds here have been concerns about casinos in their back yards. Now that they know it's going to be in Plainville, in Springfield, in Boston’’ – either the Mohegan Sun plan next to Suffolk Downs in Revere, or Wynn Resorts casino on the Mystic River in Everett – “a lot of the concern, I think, is going to be tempered … Many people in the state are going to Connecticut, going to Rhode Island, and we think that's going to carry the day if there happens to be another vote,’’ Wilmott said.
Penn National is also saying it’s confident it can take some competition from the existing Twin River Casino that is just 12 miles way as the crow flies in Lincoln, R.I., and grosses about $40 million a month.
“We think we'll offer a much more convenient location for Massachusetts customers to visit us and not have to go into Rhode Island. We're not afraid of competition. We know they're a formidable competitor, and we think we can compete very, very well.’’
The state of Rhode Island gets nearly $300 million a year in tax revenue from Twin River and stands to take a big hit to its government budget if Plainridge siphons off significant business.
Twin River CEO John Taylor said in his own statement: “We have long believed that our best course of action is to stay myopically focused on the things we can control, such as the quality of the gaming and entertainment experience at Twin River, which is what we will continue to do. We have been successfully competing with two of the world's largest casinos in the country, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Casino in nearby Connecticut. To that end, we remain confident that our convenient highway location, strong partnership with the State of Rhode Island, full range of amenities and attention to customer service will continue to well position us against new venues in Massachusetts."
Also Friday, lawyers for Palmer, Mass., landowners who have sued Mohegan Sun in Springfield court sent the state Gaming Commission this (hyperlink) exhaustive request under the state Public Records Act for any communications in the commission’s possession concerning between Mohegan Sun looking at building a casino at Suffolk Downs in the first 11 months of last year.
Northeast Realty Associates owns the 152 acres in Palmer, at the Massachusetts Turnpike’s exit 8, where Mohegan was seeking to build a casino before the plan was rejected by a 94-vote margin by Palmer voters in November. Northeast has sued Mohegan on several unfair-and-deceptive-practice and breach-of-contract grounds, saying in effect Mohegan lost heart for the Palmer casino, didn’t live up to its promises to campaign to it, and may have only wanted to keep the Palmer site locked up so no other casino developer could get it. Northeast Realty has asked a Hampden Superior Court judge to rule that, under the terms of their land deal, the only place in Massachusetts where Mohegan legally can seek to develop a casino is Palmer – which would have the effect of killing the $1 billion Mohegan casino plan in Revere next to Suffolk Downs.
The records request from Conn Kavanaugh Rosenthal Peisch & Ford LLP covers any communications the gambling commission has about a Mohegan casino in Revere or involving Suffolk Downs with Suffolk Downs owners, its attorneys and lobbyists, strategic public relations firm O’Neill and Associates, former state Rep. Kathi-Ann Reinstein, State Senator Anthony Petruccelli, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and numerous other named and unnamed people, attorneys, architects, and others.
Suffolk Downs and Mohegan Sun CEO Mitchell Etess have repeatedly denied that they ever communicated with each other about Mohegan moving its casino efforts from Palmer to Revere until after the Palmer election in early November.
Gaming Commission staff were not immediately available late Friday for comment on the request.