By Hillary Chabot / Herald Exclusive
Suffolk Downs has lined up Caesars Entertainment to manage a glitzy $600 million gaming resort planned for the East Boston racetrack in a blockbuster deal that signals smart Vegas money is betting big on legalized casinos in the Bay State, according to sources knowledgeable about the agreement.
“There are poker games and then there are high-stakes poker games,” said one lawmaker briefed on the impending deal. “This creates a perception that (Suffolk is) placing a large marker as their ante into the game.”
Three sources with knowledge of the talks confirmed that officials are close to completing a contract with Caesars Entertainment CEO Gary Loveman — a Massachusetts resident — and could announce a deal as soon as this week.
Suffolk Downs Chief Operating Officer Chip Tuttle confirmed only that operators of the 75-year-old track have been in negotiations with multiple gaming companies about managing a casino.
“Should the state authorize expanded gaming, Suffolk Downs has always been interested in strategic relationships that would enhance our ability to develop a world-class resort destination and create jobs for the commonwealth,” Tuttle said.
A source close to discussions between the two companies said that Suffolk Downs would retain control of all aspects of the potential casino development, including licensing and building the property. Caesars Entertainment would mainly manage the casino resort, while Suffolk Downs will maintain ownership.
The partnership indicates confidence that Beacon Hill leaders will reach agreement on expanded gaming legislation that seemed to be a done deal last summer, only to die in an 11th hour State House stalemate between Gov. Deval Patrick and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop).
Tuttle announced plans in July to construct a $600 million gambling facility that would include a 400- to 600-room hotel, casino, spa, restaurants and shops. The plan would pack additional gaming, restaurants and retailers into an existing 800,000 square-foot grandstand, which would be renovated and include a clubhouse.
Officials from Suffolk Downs said when they announced their development plans that the resort would immediately create up to 2,000 construction jobs and then 2,250 permanent jobs. The track’s owners also vowed to pay an unspecified amount toward improving highway access to the racetrack.
Caesars Entertainment, which has 51 casinos worldwide including Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, struck a similar partnership in December with Rock Gaming in Ohio to develop and manage resort casinos in Cleveland and Cincinnati. The company agreed to spend $600 million to develop a Cleveland gambling resort and $400 million on the casino in Cincinnati.
The Herald reported last summer that Las Vegas mogul Stephen Wynn had approached the owner of the Hub’s prized Fan Pier about developing a resort casino on Boston Harbor. Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino opposed the plan; however, he said he backs the Suffolk Downs development.