Bill Walczak Issues Warning To Gaming Commissioner

The mayoral candidate takes aim at Vornado Realty, who brought the city that crater in Downtown Crossing.

Bill Walczak has carved out an anti-casino niche for himself in the Boston mayoral race. He is now about to up the ante (so to speak), with a letter to Gaming Commissioner Stephen Crosby—in which Walczak takes aim at Vornado Realty, widely blamed around town for the gaping hole in Downtown Crossing where Filene’s Basement used to be.

Noting that the Commission last week ruled out Plainville Race Track for a slot license, on the basis of its background check on ownership, Walczak calls on Crosby to perform a similar examination of Vornado, which owns nearly 20 percent of the Suffolk Downs venture.

Here is the full text of the letter, supplied to Boston magazine by the Walczak campaign:

Dear Mr. Crosby: I applaud the Gaming Commission’s recent decision to exclude the Plainville track from contending for a slot parlor license due to its problematic financial practices by its former CEO.  This lack of oversight and dubious business practices should not be allowed in the Commonwealth.

For this reason I call on you to disregard the special exemption given to the owners of the Suffolk Downs track to avoid scrutiny of its 19.9% ownership interest by Vornado Realty Trust LLC (“Vornado”), and call on you to thoroughly vet them before allowing its gaming license application to proceed. Unless Vornado has a similar background check in the process by which you evaluate the Suffolk Downs application, or unless Suffolk Downs divests itself of the Vornado interest, you should reject the Suffolk Downs application. The Suffolk Downs application already has had special consideration limiting the area for which a vote is necessary before being allowed to seek licensure, as opposed to allowing the entire city to vote on the casino, as other communities were required to do. Now they’re asking for another special favor to not have an investigation of 19.9% of its ownership.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is empowered by M.G.L c.23K, §12(a)(1) to perform background checks on any potential gaming establishment to guarantee the integrity, honesty, and good character of the applicant. Therefore, I would like to ask the Commission to compel the Vornado Realty Trust LLC to participate in a thorough background check in order to be vetted for a gaming license. This company’s history in the city of Boston and elsewhere gives me great pause and provides for grave concerns for East Boston, Suffolk Downs and the city of Boston if they are allowed to go forward without scrutiny during your licensing process.

In March 2013, Vornado placed its 19.9% share of Suffolk Downs into a blind trust, allegedly with intentions to divest it to another owner. As of today, it has not divested its interests. Though Vornado’s share is technically owned by Hemenway & Barnes, we do not know the conditions of the blind trust nor the leverage Vornado has over the current operations of Suffolk Downs. Because we do not know how long they will wait to divest their shares, and do not know what influence it could have over gaming operations, the Gaming Commission should treat Vornado as owners of Suffolk Downs, and investigate them fully like all other applicants in the licensingprocess.

Vornado has proven worthy of public distrust. In Boston, it left a cavernous hole in Downtown Crossing at the former Filene’s Department Store site from 2008 to 2012. Were it not for Mayor Menino placing pressure on the company the site would likely still be fallow. In New York City, they left the site of the iconic Alexander’s Department Store to decay until the city was forced toprovide public funding to renovate the property. The Gaming Commission and the city of Boston should examine this company fully and to the extent allowed under the gaming law for the good of all involved.

I urge you to perform a thorough investigation of Vornado.

Thank you for your time and attention to my request.

Sincerely,William J. Walczak

Candidate, Mayor of Boston