Suffolk Downs officials said today they were shocked to learn of the issues raised by a state investigation into operations at their proposed casino operator earlier this month - especially after learning state investigators had started asking questions about them several months earlier.
Meanwhile, officials said they are talking to a number of new possible casino operators, but can't guarantee they'll have one selected by next Tuesday's election, in which East Boston and Revere voters will decide whether to back the proposal. However, Suffolk official Charles Baker III told the Massachusetts Gaming Commission that whoever they chose will be bound by the "host agreements" the racetrack has signed with the two cities. He added that Suffolk Downs will "do what it takes" to let officials in both cities vet whichever operator is hired.
Suffolk Downs dropped Caesars as operator of the proposed $1-billion project after learning state investigators had raised concerns about the involvement of Caesars with a company linked to the Russian mob, its apparent coddling of a man dropping millions in bets and its overall financial health.
Former state Attorney General Tom Reilly, working for Suffolk, said the fact Caesars never told Suffolk about the Russian-mob issue - which involves a company that had nothing to do with the Suffolk Downs bid - until several months after Massachusetts investigators began asking about it was "very troubling to me."
"Suffolk was totally in the dark as to this matter," he said. "Suffolk was blindsided by this."
Under questioning from a commission investigator, Baker said the track had learned a valuable lesson: Googling a potential operator is not enough to ensure it has no issues to worry about. Going forward, he said, track officials will do more in-depth investigations before selecting a new operator.
Suffolk Downs said it is working with Caesars to get Caesars to divest its 4% share in the proposed project.