By Adam Reilly
Feb. 23, 2012
EAST BOSTON — In the next few years some part of the greater Boston area is going to get a casino — and after Foxboro nixed Robert Kraft’s proposal, the smart money seems to be on Suffolk Downs, which spans East Boston and Revere. So far the debate over that proposed site has been pretty quiet. But that may be about to change.
The sprawling, 163-acre Suffolk Downs horseracing complex is a site that Gary Loveman, the CEO of Caesars Entertainment, thinks is perfect for gambling. At a Boston College luncheon for political and business leaders, he said, "We’re pretty fond of Boston. If there’s going to be a casino in the eastern part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, we think Boston’s a pretty good place!"
Caesars wants to help build a resort-style casino at Suffolk Downs, and Loveman says the project would be a boon for the neighborhood.
An opposition group stakes its ground
East Boston native John Ribeiro couldn’t disagree more. "I can’t stress this enough – not one state or community is better off for having added casinos," he said.
Ribeiro, who now lives in Winthrop, is leading the push to keep a casino out of Eastie. He claims traffic will worsen, crime will spike, local businesses will lose customers and any job growth will be temporary.
"In the overall analysis there’s going to be money taken away from the lottery. There’s going to be money taken away from building schools and roads. It’s going to have a long-term impact on the trade unions," he said.
Right now the politicians who represent East Boston are backing the Suffolk Downs proposal, from Boston mayor Tom Menino — who's called the idea "a natural" — on down.
Still, Ribeiro and his fellow opponents are gearing up for a fight. They’ve launched a No Eastie Casino website and Facebook page and in the coming weeks they plan to start knocking on doors and hitting community events.
When East Boston finally gets to vote on the casino, Ribeiro predicts that his side will win.
"A lot of people aren’t willing to come out and say they oppose it because they’re friendly with politicians, and some businesses want to maintain their friendships with politicians," he said. "But when it comes down to it, and people are talking about what’ll happen in their backyards, I think they’ll vote no."
Asking around the neighborhood
That confidence may be misplaced. Judging from the people we spoke with in East Boston’s Maverick Square, pro-casino sentiment is pretty widespread. A sampling of responses:
- "It’d be good for the economy, good for jobs, good for East Boston."
- "When you have a job, and a place to work, a lot of people will be off the street."
- "I wouldn’t mind going to a casino really close to me every once in a while."
The one skeptic we found seemed to think that fighting the casino is a losing proposition.
"You’re talking about a morality in this country that’s gone," he said. "You can buy all the scratch tickets you want in the mom-and-pop stores. Now you’re going to bring in a casino? Fuggedaboutit. It’s gone."
If enough people agree, Ribeiro and his allies face extremely long odds.