Mohegan Sun and Suffolk Downs celebrated a strong vote of support from Revere residents for a proposed $1.3 billion resort casino, but other hurdles lay ahead for the project before it can become a reality in the city just north of Boston.
About 63 percent of voters backed the casino in Tuesday's referendum, topping the margin of victory in a November vote on an earlier casino proposal that would have straddled the Boston-Revere line. That plan was rejected by East Boston residents, prompting a new configuration entirely on the Revere side of the border and requiring the second vote.
"Today Revere said yes to Mohegan Sun," Mayor Dan Rizzo told jubilant supporters at Suffolk Downs Tuesday night." Today Revere said yes to jobs. Today Revere said yes to better schools and safer streets."
The vote officially sets the stage for a competition between Connecticut-based Mohegan Sun and Wynn Resorts for the sole eastern Massachusetts resort casino license allowed under the state's 2011 gambling law. Wynn has proposed a $1.6 billion casino at the site of a former chemical plant along the Mystic River in Everett, barely three miles from the Revere site.
The five-member Massachusetts Gaming Commission expects to award the license by June 30.
"We're going to win this license because our application to Massachusetts is unconditional," said Mitchell Etess, chief executive of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority.
Etess later acknowledged the remark was a jab at Wynn Resorts owner Steve Wynn, who has requested that Massachusetts reduce its 25 percent tax on gambling revenues.
Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria, in a statement, noted that voters in his city backed the Wynn casino in a June referendum by an even larger margin -- 86 percent -- and maintained it was still the stronger of the competing proposals.
Strong feelings were evident on both sides of the casino issue in Revere, a blue collar city of about 53,000 residents. Home to Revere Beach, the nation's first public beach, the city has struggled economically in recent decades and had an estimated unemployment rate of 7.2 percent at the end of 2013, according to state figures.
Along a section of Broadway, one of the city's main arteries, casino backers and foes held signs during the day Tuesday on opposite sides of the roadway, near a polling place.
The Rev. George Szal of the Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church, one of many local clergy members who had urged defeat of the referendum, called the casino a "Trojan horse" that would not fulfill its promises.
"It's a slayer of souls," said Szal. "It's a slayer of families and ultimately of the community itself."
But supporters like Kevin Russell touted the benefits of casino development.
"It's a win-win situation for me," said Russell, a union carpenter. "For the jobs, and then after the jobs I'm looking for a reduction hopefully in my water bill and my taxes.
A host community agreement would provide Revere with up to $30 million in annual payments if the casino was built.
A statewide group that opposes casino gambling said after Tuesday's vote that it would continue to push for a statewide referendum in November to repeal the gambling law.
"The industry is merely plucking off cities devastated by the recession and buying loyalty on the promise of jobs and revenues we know from experience elsewhere will not materialize," said John Ribeiro, chairman of Repeal the Casino Deal, in a statement.
The project should have died after it was defeated in East Boston, Ribeiro said.
The vote also keeps alive, at least for now, the future of racing at Suffolk Downs. Officials at New England's only thoroughbred track have said they will almost certainly be forced to end racing if the casino license is not awarded to Mohegan Sun.
In an unrelated development, the gaming commission on Wednesday was to continue final deliberations on the awarding of the license for the only slots parlor -- a smaller type of casino -- that is allowed under the gambling law. The panel is choosing between proposals in Leominster, Plainville and Raynham, with a decision expected by Friday.
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