As the Nov. 5 referendum to decide if a casino resort will be built in East Boston and Revere gets closer, the city of Revere, in conjunction with the city of Boston, held a public forum Saturday to help educate residents about the push to build onto the Suffolk Downs horse racing track.
About 40 people arrived at Revere City Hall to ask Revere Mayor Daniel Rizzo, his administration and Suffolk Downs Chief Operating Officer Chip Tuttle about the potential implications of the project and how it would impact both cities.
“We cannot solve the two cities’ [Revere’s or Boston’s] needs without money,” Rizzo said. “Here’s an opportunity to take a business that’s been in our city for close to 80 years and give them the jump start that they desperately need to bring 4,000 permanent jobs [to] the periphery of our city.”
At Saturday’s meeting, residents raised concerns about the casino’s potential effects on traffic and crime as well as the promise of job creation. Other issues brought to participants’ attention were infrastructural improvements and the amount of money Suffolk Downs will pay the city of Boston and Revere, as outlined in the city’s host agreement.
Celeste Myers, co-chair of No Eastie Casino, an advocacy group made up of local residents against the casino’s construction, said several of the residents’ concerns were justified because many details of the project are not yet available to the public.
“There are so many facets of it [the plan] that are important for folks to be aware of, not the least of which are impacts which have been discussed in a very limited way by this city and the [casino’s] developers,” she said. “We’ve been pushing for some really basic details, including a jobs profile … yet they [the developers] have really been elusive.”
Before Suffolk Downs can take any action, the project must be approved by the vote in November, which will be restricted to East Boston and Revere residents.
If approved, the Suffolk Downs development would pay a $33.4 million “Upfront Community Impact Fee” to the city of Boston and would pay a percentage of its yearly earnings — which are projected to be around $1 billion annually — to Boston and Revere, according to the host agreement published by the city of Boston.
The agreement also states that the project would create an estimated 6,500 jobs, 2,500 which are temporary construction jobs to be reserved for East Boston and Revere residents.
Both Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Rizzo approved separate host agreement plans in late August after about two years of deliberation.
Rizzo and other members of his administration said they fully supported the proposal to build a casino at Suffolk Downs, and that no attempt has been made by either city or by Suffolk Downs to hinder transparency.
“We want inclusiveness,” he said. “We want people to be able to come out and voice their opinions and ask questions. We’ve tried to create as many forums as we possibly can to provide that.”
Suffolk Downs is competing with other casino bids for the Greater Boston casino license that will be awarded by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission as per a state law passed in 2011.
The Commission deemed Caesars Entertainment, whose brand has backed the Suffolk Downs development plan since it started, as an unsuitable candidate for the project on Friday.
Menino said he is attempting to delay the vote so Suffolk Downs can find another partner, but Tuttle said Caesars has no legal obligation in the host community agreement and they can still continue as planned to find suitable backers.
Several residents said they were unsure if a casino in East Boston would bring more benefits or negative consequences to the area.
Robert Spadaro, 64, resident of Revere, said the casino could bring congestion and crime to the area.
“It would provide some jobs for people who don’t have them in this area,” he said. “[But] I don’t think they should have gambling in Massachusetts … It just creates more problems.”
Kathleen Amore, 42, resident of Revere, said she doubted the informational meetings were trustworthy.
“In the end it will end up being good for the city,” she said. “[But officials] are just telling you what you want to know [at the meetings], what will get you to vote their way.”
John Hughes, 52, resident of Boston, said he was torn between being for or against the casino.
“It [the casino] is going to bring a lot of congestion to the area, it’s already congested here,” he said. “It’s a tough call for me. I’m all for it in a way because of the jobs [it will bring] and the cab drivers will make more money. The downside is the crime … [and] some of the stuff that it brings with it.”