This week, the Massachusetts Senate voted 25- 15 in favor of a bill to license three resort style casinos, one of which is likely to be proposed at Suffolk Downs. Senator Anthony Petruccelli voted in favor of the bill and included an amendment which passed 25-13 giving East Boston residents a referendum vote on whether or not they want a casino at Suffolk Downs. Interestingly, the Senator did not include his entire district which also includes the North End.
Boston Senators’ Marian Walsh and Sonia Chang-Diaz objected to the amendment, preferring to have a city-wide referendum. The argument that a casino would have far reaching effects on both sides of the tunnel was overcome by Petruccelli who said that East Boston residents would be most impacted and should have the right to make or break a Suffolk Downs casino. (See how all the State Senators voted.)
In order to get a “yes” vote, the referendum could translate into significant money for Eastie from casino developers. When a plan is presented for a resort casino at Suffolk Downs, East Boston residents and businesses will be looking for mitigation measures. Petruccelli believes that the Route 1A needs $50 – $100 million of improvements, long overdue with or without a casino. Eastie business owners will also be looking for a plan that would encourage gamblers to visit their restaurants and shops through casino point systems.
The Senate bill now has to be reconciled with a House Bill that does not include such a referendum vote. East Boston Representative Carlos Basile was unable to persuade his colleagues to include such a measure in the House Bill. Other Boston representatives, including Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, were not in favor of such a localized vote that would exclude their districts. The House bill also includes provisions for slots at racetracks, not just resort casinos as in the Senate version.
The Eastie press and blogs are gearing up for the casino debate. The East Boston Times, which also owns the North End Regional Review, has been giving a favorable spin on a Suffolk Downs casino. On the other side is The Hubster where Jim wonders when the real discussion will start. The Times sponsored a forum this week. The proponents were represented by Frank Callahan, President of the Building and Trades Council and Jay Ash, Chelsea City Manager. The opposition was represented by Tom Larkin, a licensed psychologist and a member of the Board of Directors of United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts and John Ribeiro, a concerned, lifelong East Boston and Winthrop resident and member of the newly founded, Neighbors of Suffolk Downs. Riberio has a website on the issue at www.neighborsofsuffolkdowns.org.