BOSTON — State gambling regulators adopted a plan on Tuesday that would allow Mohegan Sun to pursue a proposed resort casino on land owned by Suffolk Downs in Revere, but only after a second vote was held in the city.
The compromise, approved unanimously by the five-member Massachusetts Gaming Commission, was an attempt to resolve a sticky dispute over whether the shift to a Revere-only facility would require another referendum.
The Revere casino proposal emerged after an earlier plan from Suffolk Downs to develop a casino on the Boston-Revere border was rejected Nov. 5 by voters in the East Boston neighborhood, while at the same time approved by Revere voters.
Tuesday's action by the panel gives Mohegan Sun and Suffolk Downs one week to request a waiver from commission rules that required a certified referendum vote before the Dec. 31 casino application deadline. Mohegan Sun would then have to negotiate a new host community agreement with the city of Revere and have that agreement then put before voters, as early as February.
The compromise plan was crafted by Commissioner James McHugh, a retired state appeals court judge, who said it would give the Revere casino proposal a path forward while also upholding the provision of the state's 2011 gambling law that requires projects to be approved by local voters.
In a previous meeting, McHugh had argued that the Revere-only plan was so dramatically different from the earlier Suffolk Downs proposal — which called for only a small portion of the casino to be in Revere — that another vote would be necessary. By allowing for a waiver, the commission removes the obstacle of requiring a vote by the Dec. 31 deadline, something that would not have been possible in such a short time frame.
"It seems to me this is fair to everybody," McHugh said. "It's not happy for everybody, but it does seem to me to be fair and ultimately lets the voters go the polls and do what the (law) envisions."
Celeste Myers, head of a group that led the casino opposition in East Boston, said the commission's vote made a mockery of the casino law, and said Suffolk Downs should not be given a second chance.
"You have to cool your heels on the sidelines. Just like in dodge ball, if you get hit by the ball you're out," she said.
Her group would work with opponents of the casino in Revere to try to defeat the second referendum, Myers said, and she also would not rule out possible legal action, though she did not elaborate.
Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo, a strong supporter of the casino plan, said if another vote was held, he expected city voters to again say yes.
"Our community has enthusiastically supported this proposal from the beginning," Rizzo said. "I have heard nothing since Nov. 5 to indicate that residents of Revere have lost any drive or ability to embrace this project and I am confident they will come out once again to show support."
Suffolk Downs announced its partnership with Mohegan Sun after voters in Palmer narrowly defeated a proposal by Mohegan Sun to build a resort casino in the western Massachusetts town.
The partnership calls for Mohegan Sun to operate the proposed Revere casino on the 42-acre site, with Suffolk Downs as its landlord. Suffolk Downs, meanwhile, has said it would continue to separately operate the 78-year-old thoroughbred racetrack located in East Boston.
Mohegan Sun could still face competition for the sole eastern Massachusetts casino license from Wynn Resorts, which has proposed a casino along the Mystic River, assuming Wynn receives a suitability vote from the commission next week.
A spokesman for Wynn said the company had no comment on Tuesday's action by the commission. Commissioners raised the question as to whether allowing Mohegan Sun a waiver would be fair to Wynn, which received voter approval in Everett in June, but McHugh said Wynn anticipated competition when it moved to enter the Massachusetts gambling market.