BOSTON (STATE HOUSE) – Suffolk Downs, the East Boston racetrack that has long hoped to become involved in an expanded gambling facility, announced plans Tuesday to “wind down racing operations” after a state commission awarded a casino license to developers in Everett.
Suffolk Downs Chief Operating Officer Chip Tuttle said it is “impossible” for the racetrack to continue after Mohegan Sun lost its bid for the Boston-area casino license to rival Wynn Resorts.
After the Massachusetts Gaming Commission Tuesday afternoon voted 3-1 to award the license, Tuttle immediately announced the track’s plans. He said thousands of jobs would be lost, and the impact would also be felt by small businesses and family farms.
Suffolk Downs is the last thoroughbred track in New England. A casino in Revere would have bolstered the struggling racetrack, which last year was aligned with a casino plan in East Boston that was rejected by voters.
“This is such a devastating decision,” Tuttle told reporters moments after the commission’s vote.
Mohegan Sun planned to lease land from Suffolk Downs and build a casino on the Revere side of the track which straddles Revere and East Boston.
“We are extraordinarily disappointed as this action is likely to cost the Commonwealth thousands of jobs, small business and family farms,” Tuttle said in a statement. “We will be meeting with employees and horsemen over the next several days to talk about how we wind down racing operations as a 79-year legacy of Thoroughbred racing in Massachusetts will be coming to an end, resulting in unemployment and uncertainty for many hard-working people.”
State Rep. Carlo Basile, who represents East Boston said in a statement, “As many of you know, the Gaming Commission today has decided to award the Boston area casino license to Wynn Everett. My immediate concern is for the hundreds of East Boston residents who are likely to lose their jobs. My heart goes out to those workers and their families. We must turn our focus to the future of East Boston and to job creation for the sake of these workers and our community as a whole.”
Since 2007, Suffolk Downs has invested more than $50 million to keep up operations at the track, which lost an estimated $11.6 million on racing operations last year. The track has lost about $47 million since 2007.
Job losses at the track may ripple beyond East Boston, as track backers have long touted ties with horse farms and breeders. Thoroughbred racing and breeding employs approximately 1,486 people in Massachusetts and uses more than 6,650 acres of farmland, according to Suffolk Downs.
Last November, after the East Boston deal was rejected by voters, Suffolk Downs struck a deal to lease some land in Revere to Mohegan Sun for a gambling resort. Gaming commission members previously expressed concerns that the Mohegan Sun at Suffolk Downs casino proposal did not legally require the racetrack to continue operations.
Sterling Suffolk Racecourse LLC, the owner of Suffolk Downs, drafted a letter to the Gaming Commission saying if Mohegan Sun was awarded the region’s gaming license, racing would continue at the track for at least the 15-year initial term of the gaming license.
Suffolk Downs also crafted an agreement with Boston Mayor Martin Walsh’s administration to come up with development plans for the East Boston portion of the Suffolk Downs’ property. The agreement called for the Boston Redevelopment Authority and Suffolk Downs to begin a development planning process for the Boston side of the property, which is approximately 100 acres.
Track officials said they would also look at other non-gaming development on the Boston side of the property, as well as improvements to the track’s main entrance.
At the time, Tuttle said the track would maintain its commitment to thoroughbred racing, and the hundreds of small businesses and family farms that depend on the horse racing industry.
On Tuesday, noting the track’s size and proximity to Logan Airport, Tuttle said, “It’s a very attractive development property.”
[Gintautas Dumcius contributed reporting]