BOSTON (AP) — Casino supporters were dealt twin setbacks on Tuesday as voters in East Boston rejected a proposal by the Suffolk Downs race track and voters in Palmer narrowly defeated a bid by Mohegan Sun to build a resort casino in the western Massachusetts town.
The results promised to dramatically alter the casino landscape in Massachusetts, where a 2011 gambling law allows for up to three regional resort casinos.
Voters in Revere approved the Suffolk Downs casino in a separate referendum Tuesday, but favorable votes were needed in both East Boston and Revere before the track could formally apply to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission for a license.
Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer of Suffolk Downs, which straddles East Boston and Revere, thanked voters who supported the project and said in a statement that the track would now “reassess” its plans.
Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo said he would ask Suffolk Downs to reshape the proposal so that the casino would be located entirely in Revere, but it was unclear if the commission would support such a change. A spokeswoman for commission chairman Stephen Crosby said he was not available for comment Tuesday evening.
Celeste Myers, co-chairwoman of the group No Eastie Casino, said she and the hundreds of volunteers working against the proposal were shocked and elated by their resounding victory.
“I came into the day today bracing myself and talking myself into being content with a modest loss,” she said. “I had no reason to expect that we would realize a win, much less a win of this nature. I’m just completely blown away.”
Tuttle had said before the vote he was optimistic despite the cloud that was cast when Suffolk Downs recently severed its partnership with Caesar’s Entertainment, after the commission raised concerns during its background check of Caesars.
Unofficial returns from East Boston showed casino opponents with 56 percent of the vote, while in Revere, 61 percent of voters said yes.
In Palmer, the town clerk’s office said returns showed the casino proposal had been defeated by fewer than 100 votes out of about 5,200 cast Tuesday.
Mitchell Etess, chief executive of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, said the company was disappointed with the outcome of the vote as it currently stood, but would seek a recount.
“Because of technical problems with the voting machine in Precinct 2 that are very troubling, we will be asking the Town of Palmer for a hand recount of the ballots in today’s election,” Etess said in a statement.
Casino opponents like Bill Hayden, who has lived in Palmer since 1990, said the Mohegan Sun development would shatter the town’s rural character. He was ecstatic to learn that the project had been defeated.
“We had a very small budget to fight this with,” Hayden said. “I think a lot of people in Palmer were planning to vote no but they were keeping quiet about it. They didn’t want to be harassed by the casino people.”
Supporters of the Mohegan Sun proposal in Palmer had argued that the $1 billion project, which also included a retail complex and a water park, would be a catalyst for an economic revival in a town that has seen its traditional jobs base vanish in recent decades.
If the vote in Palmer stands, it would leave MGM Resorts International as the only company still in the hunt for the sole western Massachusetts resort casino license allowed under the law. Voters in Springfield in July approved MGM’s proposal for a casino in the city’s downtown, though the gaming commission has yet to complete a background check on the company.
In the eastern region, Las Vegas casino developer Steve Wynn received overwhelming support from Everett voters in June for his proposed resort casino along the Mystic River. Wynn is also awaiting results of the commission’s background check.
Foxwoods, which like Mohegan Sun operates a casino in Connecticut, also hopes to vie for the eastern Massachusetts license if voters in Milford approve a referendum scheduled for Nov. 19.
“Voters today struck a decisive blow to the casino culture, a clear signal that the Commonwealth believes there are better economic options than casinos and slot barns,” said John Ribeiro, head of a group that is seeking to repeal the state’s casino law.