Downs(ward) Dogs

1218655943After a painfully long courtship—this goes all the way back to the beginning of last year’s casino drama—the Herald reports that horse track Suffolk Downs finally agreed to buy Wonderland Park, its greyhound racing friends just two miles to the north. By comparison, Jim and Pam from the Office had an easy time getting together.

Few question that this will strengthen Suffolk Downs bid to open a resort casino, but it’s not because owner Richard Fields now has a little extra land at his disposal (and it is relatively just a little extra land).

This sale was all about political expediency, through and through. Wonderland owner Charles Sarkis is an influential man in town, and there was at least a handful of state reps wary of crossing him. That meant there was little chance they’d help pave the way for Suffolk to open a casino while Wonderland got left out in the cold.

For just that reason, last week state rep., and gaming advocate, Brian Wallace speculated to us that if the greyhound tracks were to be shut down—and there is a ballot referendum this November proposing just that—that could swing 15-20 votes to the pro-casino side. Suffolk taking Wonderland out of the game should have the same effect.

Further proof that this was a political move, from a conversation we had all the way back in December with a source familiar with Suffolk. Though the source acknowledged that there had been conversations about acquiring Wonderland, he added it wasn’t the most appealing spot from a pure land perspective. It’s “space and infrastructure” make Wonderland non-viable he said, adding that, “it’s not served by major roadways.”

The source also noted that Mohegan and Pequot Tribes (of Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, respectively), Penn National Gaming and even Donald Trump had all kicked the tires on partnering with Wonderland, and chose not to bite. Later on, Wynn Gaming came in and did the same thing.

So, why would Suffolk Downs seal the deal with Sarkis and Wonderland after all those major national players came in and figured it wasn’t worth it? It seems the folks at Suffolk—the biggest local players involved in the latest round of Massachusetts casino-palooza—understand their home state. In other words, they know that to get anything done around here, politics must be played.