In the midst of heated debate, the Boston City Council voted 12 to one on Wednesday denying a citywide vote for the Suffolk Downs casino proposal, leaving the decision only to East Boston residents.
“East Boston is the only community that will be most impacted by the casino…through the traffic and noise and pollution and other of the negatives when you go through a development the size of a billion-dollar casino,” said City Council President Stephen Murphy.
Celeste Myers, a resident of East Boston and co-chair of the activist group No Eastie Casino, said the whole city should not vote on this deal if it only affects certain residents.
“Personally, as an East Boston voter, I believe the vote should be ours,” she said. “If I were just thinking of my own, personal, individual preference, I wouldn’t necessarily think that someone across the city should get to vote on my neighborhood. As someone who has to look at this strategically, I don’t see that we gain anything by going citywide.”
District Six Councilor Matthew O’Malley said he opposed the East Boston-only vote because the effects of the casino will surpass the confines of the neighborhood.
“The direct impact will be much greater on East Boston, there’s no question about that,” he said. “However, it’s a city that we live in. It’s not a confederation of neighborhoods. There are some real costs in terms of public safety, in terms of infrastructure, in terms of public health, addiction and the effects on small businesses. This will affect the entire city, not just one neighborhood.”
Murphy said the city would receive a $32 million payment to mitigate the costs of the impact the casino will have on East Boston.
“We’re getting improvements to Route 1A that they’re paying for privately, we’re getting $19 million towards improvements in East Boston,” he said. “They [East Boston] are getting parks, a senior center and a youth center all coming from casino sources.”
Murphy said that the mitigation package also includes costs for excess police and ambulances, as well as programs for people with addiction.
“For me, it’s a no-brainer,” he said. “With the mitigation package there’s going to be a partnership with the existing businesses and they’re going to recreate the world of business within the bounds of a casino … I think it’s a net positive for the city. We’re getting 4,000 jobs, 50 percent of it will be built by Boston residents and economic activity in an area that’s been reserved for gambling for 80 or 90 years now.”
Despite the mitigation package, Myers said she believes the casino will have a negative impact on the city.
“It will be devastating to the fabric of the city of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” she said. “What they’re proposing to do is build this monolithic entity … and its whole purpose is a revenue vacuum, sucking all the money out of our local economy, our tourist economy. The best-case scenario is that there will be the illusion of increased revenues.”
Some residents said they understood why people citywide would want to vote, but why only East Boston residents think they should only vote.
Chuck Stockbridge, 50, an operations manager with Boston Harbor Cruises, said he believes the casino will benefit the community.
“The casino is going to be beneficial for years and years and it’s going to bring in a lot of employment in the area,” he said. “I think the effects of the casino are going to be residual. You’re going to get the influx initially for the construction, and then after that, you’re going to be looking at all the smaller effects for all the businesses in and around the area. They’re going to benefit.”
Steve Holt, 31, a freelance journalist in East Boston, said despite the economic benefits, there are a lot of negative consequences that could happen because of the deal.
“Statistically, we’ll actually be more likely to know someone who has a gambling addiction than someone who has a job at Suffolk Downs,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like such a good deal when you look at it that way.”
Diane O’Hara, 77, resident of East Boston, said the vote should be citywide even though East Boston will be closest to the casino.
“Most residents will be happy they don’t have to go to Foxwoods [Casino],” she said. “And the small businesses will profit with everybody coming into town, especially people who didn’t know about the area before … we have restaurants and parks … and with the casino plan, they will hire people from East Boston, hopefully.”