JP residents could vote on Eastie casino

January 6, 2012
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JP residents should have the chance to vote on a casino development project in East Boston, local elected officials say.

Under a recently passed state law authorizing three casinos and one slot parlor in Massachusetts, Boston City Council has the power to decide whether development plans for a casino in Boston will be subject to a local ward-only or a citywide binding referendum.

It is all but assured that the owners of East Boston’s long-struggling Suffolk Downs racetrack will propose that a casino be located there. The vote will be part of the approval of any proposal that is put forward.

Local elected officials the Gazette spoke to last week said there are plenty of good reasons for JP residents to weigh in.

City Councilor Matt O’Malley told the Gazette that it is not clear which way the council will go on the vote, but he supports a citywide referendum.

“There is no [private] Ward One police force, fire department or emergency medical service,” City Councilor Matt O’Malley said, referring to the East Boston ward where Suffolk Downs is located. “It really affects everyone in the city.”

O’Malley said that he supports the concept of a casino at Suffolk Downs. “I would likely vote for it,” he said, because it would be “a driver for economic development.”

State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz, who opposed the casino bill, put forward an unsuccessful amendment that would have required a citywide vote in Boston.

Not allowing Boston residents to vote on a casino plan is “taxation without representation,” she said.

Homeowners—and, indirectly, renters—will end up paying for traffic mitigation, extra law enforcement and other public costs that come with casinos, she said.

“Tons of people in JP want to see more community police officers walking the beat,” Chang-Díaz said, but if a casino is built there, “more police resources will be pulled over to East Boston.”

Chang-Díaz said she is not sure whether in the end a casino would be a boon or a burden for the city. But, she said, it is going to be important for all city residents to pay close attention to how any plan put forward by developers to mitigate potential negative impacts is structured.

“We have to have a level of humility about making these deals,” she said, noting that they are sometimes reworked by developers as construction costs and profit margins fluctuate.

The casino bill requires municipality-wide referendums for most cities and towns in the Commonwealth, making it optional only for the state’s largest cities.

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