Menino to Suffolk Downs: Stop Horsing Around

Why isn't a host community agreement deal done yet?

It looks like negotiations between the Menino Administration and Suffolk Downs may be getting a little testy. The two sides are trying to hammer out a so-called host community agreement, stipulating the terms on which the East Boston track could have the right to open a casino on their grounds. In the end, this is most likely about money: how much the city will get and how much Suffolk Downs will keep. The track’s application for a gaming license cannot move forward until this agreement is signed off on. The Herald reports today:

“We put a proposal in front of Suffolk Downs and we’re awaiting their response,” Menino spokeswoman Dot Joyce told the Herald last night. “It’s now in Suffolk Downs’ hands to sign the agreement which will move this process forward.”

Talks between the city and Suffolk Downs and its gaming partner, Caesars, have plodded along for months as the two sides have haggled — at times intensely — over the city’s haul from the proposed 
$1 billion casino.

Revere has already struck a deal with Suffolk Downs for its share of the gaming windfall, while Everett signed a pact that will see that city reap $25 million a year from a $1.4 billion casino proposed by Las Vegas titan Steve Wynn.

Dot Joyce does not appear to be messing around with those quotes. So what do we make of all this?

In many ways, it’s a surprise that this deal isn’t already done. Most people thought it would be by now. Menino wants a casino at Suffolk Downs, Suffolk Downs reallllly wants a casino at Suffolk Downs. Everyone’s on the same page here. Add in that longtime friend-of-Tommy Joe O’Donnell holds a large ownership position in the track, and you’d think this would be a slam dunk.

But that’s exactly the problem with this negotiation: nobody has any leverage. By law, Suffolk Downs needs the city to sign off if they’re to get a casino. And Menino, at this point, needs Suffolk Downs just as much. If he backs out of a deal with the track, he might as well just hand the casino license himself to Steve Wynn across the river in Everett (a scenario in which Boston would bear much of the social cost of having a casino, but reap few of the financial benefits). This is a bit like if, say, Rajon Rondo were to become a free agent, but was only allowed to sign a new contract with the Celtics, and not any other teams. The two sides would have to find an accommodation, but the negotiation would ultimately boil down to a staring contest.

And that’s what we have with Suffolk Downs and Menino: a staring contest. Since neither side has the upper hand, the only variable left to play with is time—and it looks like both Suffolk Downs and the Menino administration are trying to wait each other out.

Eventually, though, this deal will get done. Neither side can afford for it not to.