Casino vote shouldn’t be “either-or”

slot machinesWednesday 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.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

One thought on “Casino vote shouldn’t be “either-or”

  1. Al

    Very nice presentation of a position on a Suffolk Down casino, giving good consideration of both East Boston residents and the rest of the city. Regarding the promise of “jobs”, I’ve never seen any estimation of what the term means in connection to a casino project. How many temporary construction jobs which could exist for other construction projects elsewhere? Also, just what are the permanent casino jobs? How many? What skills are needed? What might they pay? Just how many would local residents get, and keep once the place is under operation and no one is watching any more? I guess for a population with no more expectations beyond housekeeping, it wouldn’t take much to entice them. BTW, I’m a former resident, not looking at the casino for jobs, entertainment, or as a golden goose for revenue without having to take a vote for a tax.


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