Wednesday the Boston City Council will decide whether the city as a whole or just East Boston will vote on a plan to locate a casino at Suffolk Downs. Unfortunately, it is being framed as an either-or vote, but it should not play out that way.
East Boston has suffered a history of being lied to about the negative impacts of Logan Airport and efforts to mitigate the adverse effects. It has had to deal directly with the onslaught of Sumner and Callahan Tunnel traffic, the noise from additional runways and air pollution.
It has not enjoyed the same economic benefits enjoyed by other parts of the city in past decades. Its residents deserve a better quality of life and opportunities for growth. On something as important as a giant casino, its voice should be heard. And it shouldn’t be forced to accept something it doesn’t want.
But if East Boston residents want to drink the Kool-Aid being offered by Caesar’s Entertainment gambling moguls and their local enablers and ignore serious potential risks, miscalculated community benefits and inaccurate casino revenue projections, the rest of Boston should not be forced to stand idly by and pay the price.
The voices of non-Eastie voters should be heard too. A Suffolk University/ Boston Herald poll last week found 64 percent supporting a citywide vote on the casino and only 30 percent who want an East Boston only vote, about the same result as the Boston Globe/ UNH poll found last March.
The problems of gambling and gambling emporia, which would affect all of Boston and probably other communities as well, have been clear all along: heavier traffic, increase in petty crimes like check kiting and prostitution, siphoning money from local businesses, (especially restaurants, arts and entertainment venues), worsening of gambling addiction, leading to family breakdown and, in some cases, domestic abuse. Also more recent economic analyses of other gambling venues seem to show how the heady promises are often evanescent or grossly overstated, and the people are left to pick up the pieces long after the politicians who originally touted the fool’s gold payoffs have left office.
This referendum decision has become a hot topic in the mayor’s preliminary election. It shouldn’t be the single issue on which a vote is cast, but it gives insight into the thinking and priorities of would-be mayors.
The two candidates who have seen the effects of gambling up close – Bill Walczak from a family perspective and Dan Conley as a law enforcement official – aren’t happy about the proposed casino but, if state law makes it inevitable, want the whole city to have a say on it. Others, including Rob Consalvo and Felix Arroyo, want East Boston only to have the vote.
But this needn’t be an either/or situation. Why not structure the referendum as a two- tiered vote. Let the whole city vote. If East Boston votes against a casino, and the whole city votes for it, a casino shouldn’t be shoved down Eastie’s throat by virtue of citywide support. Similarly, if East Boston wants a casino and the city rejects the idea, the casino shouldn’t happen either. Obviously, a citywide and East Boston agreement voting yea should prevail. Unless the city and the East Boston neighborhood both agree, no casino.
Clearly, casinos are the wrong route to economic development. Economic growth demands an educated workforce, hence better schools and job training; improved transportation alternatives (not just more bike paths); more housing options for workers; diversified industry; simplified regulation at City Hall; even public/private partnerships and incubators for start-ups. Blackjack tables and slot machines are not the ticket to prosperity. Caesar’s Entertainment at Suffolk Downs should not become the worldwide icon of the New Boston. And politicians shouldn’t patronize East Boston residents, implying that casino jobs should be the aspirational dreams for their kids and the answer to their prayers.
If both Eastie and the rest of the city agree to move forward, so be it. Clearly the result will be a crap shoot. But, in making such a serious decision, the Council should structure a tiered vote, respectful of both sides.
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