Wynn promises place to Suffolk Downs

Casino officials say they’ll give hiring preference to track employees if company gets Everett license

If you lose your jobs, you can come work for us.

That’s what Wynn Everett is promising Suffolk Downs workers as part of its “Suffolk Downs Employee Commitment.” Should the racetrack decide to close after Wynn is awarded the Region A casino license, Wynn is promising preferential hiring and job training to assist with career transfers.

The initiative was announced by Robert DeSalvio, senior vice president of development at Wynn, at a public meeting in Everett last Wednesday night. The meeting was held the day after a similar public meeting was held in Revere for Mohegan Sun officials to present their plans to Gaming Commission members, and the day after the state’s highest court ruled the casino repeal referendum will appear on the November ballot.

The promise, though, doesn’t appear to be totally altruistic. State law requires preference for displaced track workers and Wynn has also agreed to hiring preferences for Everett and surrounding communities.

The vast majority of the Everett crowd was supportive of the proposal. Both DeSalvio and Wynn president Matthew Maddox were greeted with applause, and at least one attendee waved a WYNN sign in support. The town overwhelmingly voted for the casino.

Last February, Penn National won a license to operate a slots facility in Plainsville, becoming the first operator to be awarded a license under the 2011 casino law. One factor tipping the 3-2 vote in Penn’s favor was the existing harness-racing track at its proposed site.

Wynn’s commitment may be an attempt to undercut Mohegan Sun’s similar advantage. Depending on the season, anywhere from 325 to 800 people are on the track’s payroll. Massachusetts licenses over 2,000 people to work at the track, annually, including horse trainers, jockeys, and vets.

Louis Ciarlone represents 140 Suffolk Downs workers in his role as business agent for IBEW Local 103. He says the pledge is required under Massachusetts law, rather than any real gesture of support for the track.

“Mr. Wynn’s gesture, which is really him complying with the gaming law as any other applicant would be required, is of little consolation to the workers that I represent, whose livelihoods would be improved significantly with the preservation and enhancement of racing at Suffolk Downs that we can expect should Mohegan Sun be awarded the Region A gaming license,” he said in an e-mailed statement.

The state’s gaming law states that whoever is awarded a casino license “shall show preference in hiring” to employees of any racing facility in the region that shuts down within a year of the award.

“These are hard-working people, many of whom have worked here for years, paying taxes and supporting families,” Ciarlone continued.

Suffolk Downs officials and supporters have said the only way to keep racing viable there is if a casino was built on site. Anthony Spadea, the president of the New England Horseman’s Benevolent and Protection Association, pointed out that there are more livelihoods at stake than the workers at the Suffolk Downs.

“On behalf of the hundreds of small businesses and thousands of workers that our organization represents, who are not direct employees of Suffolk Downs but whose living depends on its existence, we believe this is a hollow gesture and more gamesmanship from the Wynn-Everett team,” he said. “Dozens of family farms and thousands of acres of working open space in the Commonwealth depend on the continuation of Thoroughbred racing.”

According to a 2013 study commissioned by the racetrack and carried out by an independent research and consulting firm, there are 62 farms that breed thoroughbreds, primarily to race at Suffolk Downs. There are another 71 affiliated farms. The study estimated the total net positive economic impact of thoroughbred racing as more than $100 million.

The industry has faced financial difficulties in recent years. In a Spring 2014 interview with CommonWealth, Wynn Everett owner Steve Wynn called the race track business “dead” when asked if he was concerned if the Suffolk Downs track would swing the Gaming Commission vote towards the Revere proposal.

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“What do you need, a building to fall on your head? Thoroughbred racing is dying,” he said.

Wynn has also promised preferential hiring for residents of Everett, with which it has a host agreement. It has also signed surrounding community agreements with Malden, Medford, Cambridge, Somerville and Chelsea, all of which include preferential hiring for residents. Wynn also stated it expects to include a similar clause for Boston when a surrounding community agreement is reached.