Casinos: The Donald Moves In

1192474364Everyone knows Donald Trump loves a good fight, and it looks like he could be fixing for a particularly interesting one as the race to grab one of Gov. Deval Patrick’s three gambling licenses heats up. Trump Entertainment Resorts—which operates three Atlantic City casinos—is seriously interested in opening a destination casino in the state. Incidentally, as detailed in the Globe this morning, so is former Trump protege-turned enemy, Richard Fields of Suffolk Downs. This is where it gets good.

In a nutshell, Fields, the owner of Suffolk Downs, served as a consultant on casinos for Trump from 1995 to 1999. Things fell apart, though, when Trump alleged that his former, dare we say it, apprentice stole plans to build two casinos on Seminole tribal land in Florida. Fields denied it, and the issue is currently tied up in a $1 billion lawsuit.

Trump Entertainment Resorts spokesman Tom Hickey declined to comment on the litigation and downplayed any effects the Fields/Trump Florida feud would have in Massachusetts.

“Our business interests focus on business,” he said.

Still, it’s difficult to ignore that if Trump does draw the Boston region into his well-coiffed crosshairs, it would set him in direct opposition to Fields and local heavyweight Suffolk Downs.

Hickey was equally tight-lipped about his company’s plans for moving into the Massachusetts market, other than to indicate a strong interest. “Generally speaking we believe that Massachusetts could present a very compelling business opportunity and could be a very vibrant destination market,” he said, citing the state’s strong “population base” and the success of nearby casinos like Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods.

He opted not to disclose which of Patrick’s three zones Trump Entertainment would be interested in, other than to say, “Wherever we would look to build a facility we would look to build something that would live up to the Trump brand.”

The close-to-the-vest approach is essentially the opposite tact of Fields and Suffolk Downs. While it’s a given that they would want to locate any casino at their East Boston sight, the Globe story laid out details for developing the location.

Meanwhile, both sides have been arming themselves with lobbyists. Fields and Suffolk Downs have engaged, among others, former speaker of the House Charles Flaherty and former budget director for the House Ways and Means Committee David Shapiro.

On the other side, according to the Secretary of State’s website, Trump has paid $62,500 to lobbyist Dennis Murphy, more than any other individual lobbyist has received. Murphy served six years in the state legislature, and in his second term was tapped by–you guessed it–Flaherty to serve as Vice Chairman of the Joint Committee on Energy.

Murphy’s also served as director for Thomas Reilly’s 1998 District Attorney Campaign (where among other duties, he was the campaign liaison to the legislature) and then was a part of Reilly’s transition team. In other words, these men are extremely well connected.

Is Massachusetts big enough for all of them?