The oddball ballot question
Quest for 2d slots parlor stays under radar
One of the four questions certified for the November ballot is a political oddity.
Most ballot question proponents are hungry for publicity, eager to get their point of view before voters. Three of the approved ballot questions — for legalizing marijuana, increasing the number of charter schools, and protecting farm animals — are mounting major campaigns. They put out press releases on Wednesday after their signatures were certified and they were cleared for the November ballot.
But the folks behind the fourth question, which would allow the state to add a second slots parlor, didn’t put out any statement. Their campaign philosophy is to keep a low profile, so low that some believe they are hiding something.
Eugene McCain,the frontman for the slots parlor ballot question, appeared before the Revere City Council in late May, but usually he stays out of the limelight. He doesn’t return phone calls and there is little indication he is gearing up for a conventional ballot question campaign. He has formed a limited liability company called Alliance Capital (MA) LLC and purchased or optioned property in Revere near Suffolk Downs, where he would like to build a slots parlor and two hotels with between 200 and 250 rooms. Corporation records indicate Alliance Capital is located at 12 Furlong Drive in Revere.
Gambling opponents tried to have McCain’s ballot question disqualified on the grounds it was written to benefit only his venture, but the Supreme Judicial Court rejected that argument on the grounds that a slots parlor could also be located near the Brockton Fairgrounds or Plainridge Park, which is home to the state’s existing slots parlor. The court also held that a developer could comply in other ways.
“Nothing would prohibit a developer from building a new race track in the Commonwealth, holding a horse race there (subject to licensing), and then seeking to license an adjacent slots parlor that fits within the terms of the proposed law,” the court said in its ruling.
McCain introduced himself and his project to the Revere City Council on May 23. He said he has been living in Revere for about a year but has roots in the area. His slide presentation indicated his grandfather was born in Dorchester and lived in Newton. He said his “direct ancestors” settled in Plymouth in the 1600s.
McCain said he has hired an architectural firm and is talking with hotel firms, casino operators, and construction firms. He told the council that his project would generate $1.5 million a year in property taxes and more than $2 million a year in gaming revenues for the city. He said it would also generate revenue for the state and the state’s horse-racing industry, suggesting Suffolk Downs would benefit if his slots parlor opened.
Chip Tuttle, the chief operating officer at Suffolk Downs, said the track does not support the ballot question. “Unfortunately, people associated with this ballot initiative continue to take advantage of proximity to our property to mislead the public that Suffolk Downs is somehow involved or that racing here may benefit from its potential passage, neither of which is true,” he said.
In his presentation to the Revere City Council, McCain said his backers include American and Asian investors, but he offered no details. The Boston Globe has reported that gaming businessmen Shawn Scott and Hoolae Paoa have accompanied McCain to some of his Revere real estate negotiations, but McCain denied to the Globe that they are involved with his project.
Scott is well-known in Maine for acquiring a harness racing track in Bangor in 2002 and then pushing through a ballot initiative in November 2003 that authorized slot machines at the state’s existing tracks, subject to local referenda. Bangor voters subsequently approved the installation of slot machines at the track and Scott subsequently sold the business to Penn National Gaming.
Even if McClain succeeds in winning approval of his ballot question, his project would still face a number of hurdles. He would need to win the support of Revere voters, sign a host community agreement with the municipality, and gain the backing of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
Some Gaming Commission officials have frowned on the ballot question, suggesting that approving a second slots parlor would be tantamount to changing the rules for gambling in Massachusetts in the middle of the game.
McCain said a poll he commissioned of more than 325 registered voters in Revere found that residents favored a slots parlor there by a margin of 59-36 percent — 64-33 if they were told all the benefits it would bring. McCain also said Revere voters believe the city should negotiate a host community agreement with the slots parlor by a 63-31 margin.But Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo said he will oppose any effort to locate a slots parlor in the community. “It doesn’t fit in the long-term version I have for the city,” he said.
Arrigo said McCain originally came to the city with a plan for just hotels, and later amended that proposal to include hotels in tandem with a slots parlor. He said the information McCain supplied was full of grammatical and factual errors. “It wasn’t really a legitimate proposal,” he said.