Battle lines are drawn and billions of dollars are in play, a high-stakes battle over who will operate and control racing and gaming in Massachusetts.
After decades of lobbying for casinos in the Commonwealth, new gaming laws have created a good old fashioned power struggle, pitting some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the state and gaming industry against each other.
On one side is Bob Kraft, New England Patriots owner, and Steve Wynn, Chairman and CEO of Wynn Resorts. Known for his luxury and innovations in Las Vegas, Wynn symbolizes the new Las Vegas as designer and builder of such opulent resorts such as The Mirage, Bellagio and Wynn Resort.
Parenthetically, Wynn subsequently sold both the Mirage and Bellagio.
In the other corner of the ring are the racing executives at Suffolk Downs, a group supported by Boston Mayor Tom Menino. The group has deep political connections and is backed by the gaming expertise of Caesar’s Entertainment’s CEO Gary Loveman.
It’s safe to say that neither side is going down without a fight. At stake is the very future and gaming and horse racing in Massachusetts.
Led by Joe O’Donnell, the former owner of the Boston Culinary Group with a 20% interest in Suffolk Downs, the Suffolk group wields a ton of political clout. O’Donnell is tight with Mayor Menino and Menino wants the track to have the license at the East Boston oval for the jobs and revenue it will create for his city.
Another dominant player in the Suffolk group is Richard Fields, the former head of Donald Trump’s casinos. As managing partner, Fields bought 42% of the struggling racetrack back in 2007, betting his gamble would someday pay huge dividends as a gaming site.
Last April, Caesar’s Loveman bought 4% of the track in a deal whereby Suffolk would retain control of the property for development, racing and licensing while Caesar’s would operate the casino. Loveman completes the roll call of key Suffolk players.
Kraft, meanwhile, is no stranger to politics; a self-proclaimed heavyweight in those circles. Kraft, with son Jonathan, has spent years turning the Patriots into winners and built a new 70,000 stadium in Foxboro along with Patriot Place, an upscale shopping complex with Movie Theater and hotel. Think Frank Stronach, NFL style.
Kraft has his sights firmly set on a resort casino. However, NFL rules prohibit him from having ownership in a casino and that’s where Wynn comes in as a lessee, one who would also develop the property and operate the casino.
The team of Kraft and Wynn fully realize that the major jewel in a three-casino plan is the Eastern region. Simply put, a Boston-based casino would make a lot more money than having one in Foxboro.
With so much money at stake, there are bound to be a few other players added to the mix. At the moment, Sheldon Adelson is the 400-pound gorilla waiting at the door.
Adelson, a local boy from Dorchester in not only one of the richest men on the planet but is also CEO of Las Vegas Sands, one of the world’s biggest gaming companies. He has yet to declare interest in his home state’s casino future but insiders say Adelson is no fan of Wynn.
It wouldn’t be a huge upset if he came to the table at the 11th hour with a proposal, if only to block his nemesis Wynn from profiting on his home turf. Connected, deep-pocketed people are poised to compete in the biggest stakes race ever run in the Bay State.
If you are a fan of racing, you should have an interest in rooting for the Suffolk group to win. For nearly two decades they’ve been fighting hard to survive against neighboring casinos, better purses in other racing states, and competition for the dwindling gaming dollar.
Suffolk--which opens for live racing on May 14 and continues through Breeders’ Cup day--have kept racing alive in Massachusetts, not to mention nearly 1,000 jobs.
The battle to control the future of racing and gaming in this state, given the size of the stakes and the egos involved, figures to go the distance, a sure-fire 12 rounds. Suffolk has proven it cares about horse racing and those deriving a living from it. What are the chances Kraft and Wynn will feel the same way?