A quick and dirty rundown of why a Boston casino is a bad idea

mit·i·ga·tion /?mit?'gaSH?n/ (noun) - The action of reducing the severity, seriousness or painfulness of something

As you read this, a committee hand-picked by Mayor Menino is behind closed doors figuring out how much Caesars and Suffolk Downs will have to pay the city back for building a casino that sucks income from local businesses while increasing its crime, traffic, pollution and gambling addiction rates. It's called "mitigation," and it's essentially how casino companies get cities to even consider welcoming them.

Here in East Boston, the mission of No Eastie Casino all along has been to show our neighbors that the package of money, community centers, and parks Suffolk Downs is likely to dangle in front of them in the coming weeks or months won't come close to repaying the damages that are likely to be incurred by a casino here. And by all appearances, we're winning: results from independent polling in East Boston released last week found that just 26 percent of registered voters support a casino at Suffolk Downs. Suffolk Downs' own polling showed that the profiles of a casino supporter in East Boston are older adults on a fixed income and males over 40 with less than a college education - subsets that are, coincidentally, the main target markets for casino operators themselves. Nearly 100 percent of East Boston women with a master's degree are opposed to a casino here.

You get the point. Americans would rather have a power plant or a Walmart in their community than a casino, which was barely edged out by a landfill in its unfavorability rating. There's good reason for this, of course, born out over decades in communities like ours that have gambled on casinos. There is precedent for this, in other words, and data - actual numbers - that casino companies and the mayors that coddle them don't want communities to hear.

For one, because every dollar fed into a slot machine is an entertainment dollar not spent in the local community, a casino would threaten the strong base of neighborhood businesses that have flourished here over the last several decades. Restaurants in East Boston and the North End, for instance - the ones the Mayor himself frequents - are no match for the rock-bottom buffets and free drinks at the casino. A study from the University of Illinois a few years ago actually found that every new slot machine that is installed kills a job in the local community. (and there will be 4,000-5,000 at Suffolk Downs) In Atlantic City, 66 percent of local restaurants and bars went out of business after a casino opened there, and a third of the city's retail businesses have since closed. Even casino moguls Donald Trump and Steve Wynn admit casinos cannibalize local businesses. (isn't this one of the main reasons why Menino fiercely opposed allowing a Walmart to be built here?)

Second, casinos introduce new social problems to combat. The number of new problem gamblers in a region, for instance, increases by as much as 5 percent after a casino is built. Taking a conservative figure - an addiction increase of 1-2 percent - a casino at Suffolk Downs would create between 1,890 and 3,780 new problem gamblers in East Boston, Chelsea, Revere, Everett and Winthrop alone. Boston and its surrounding communities can ill afford the thousands of new gambling addicts Caesars would bring to the city, especially considering the ongoing battles with other addictions.

But what about jobs, the drum-beat casino proponents tout as their best argument? Casino workers' unions across the country are embroiled in labor fights with casino owners, fighting for fair pay and even to keep what little they receive in tips. Last year, hundreds of employees quit, some of them in tears, just days after the opening of Cleveland's new Horseshoe Casino — a Caesars Entertainment holding — outraged at their excessive hours and low pay. Unions tell members to apply for public assistance, like food stamps, and employees often sleep several to a bed for lack of adequate housing.

Numerous other problems follow the construction of a casino, not least increased crime, more cars on our streets, and a stagnation of new businesses and residents to the community. (because nobody wants a casino in their back yard, remember?)

When considering a proposed casino in Boston, we often miss a simple clarifying question: What kind of business requires millions of dollars in mitigation funds to offset its assumed negative impacts, and why would we want such a business in our neighborhoods?

Next Post: How Our Leaders Sold Us Out for Caesars.

Steve Holt is a writer who lives in East Boston. He volunteers with No Eastie Casino.

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Comments

NIMBYism

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Casinos in MA are a reality, unless and until that legislation gets revoked (which seems extremely unlikely). If not Eastie, then where? (Assuming that the parade of horribles Mr. Holt trots out is true, of course.)

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So your point is that Menino

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So your point is that Menino has decided east boston is where the casino should go because there are poor minorities there as opposed to, say, the wealthier and whiter Charlestown or West Roxbury? I agree that is why Menino is probably so adamant it be in East Boston, just surprised the pro casino people (who don't live in East Boston) are admitting that.

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"Wealthier" Charlestown?

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Charlestown is only one square mile wide with three sets of projects. And it's not so white anymore, thankfully.

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Anywhere but a City

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Let's see. If you assume the "Eastern Region" is everything inside of 495, there are several good places to put a Casino:

  • Northeast of Middleboro, somewhere on or near the end of the Super-2 Freeway segment of US-44. The whole region is basically a blank slate just waiting to be destroyed developed on, US-44 can be upgraded and reconfigured to pump "guests" into the complex and it's a relatively painless shuttle to institute that would move people from Kingston or Middleboro Stations to the casino and back. Since both are on the end of their respective lines, "mitigation" in the form of much-needed repairs and restructuring to MA-3, MA-24, US-44 and I-495 as well as to the Old Colony Lines is both easy and extremely beneficial even to non-casino-goers, especially given that the Southeast Expressway corridor and the rails that run alongside it - the chief targets for mitigation "improvements" designed to speed traffic between Boston and the Casino - would be more than 30 miles away from the blight. (Hello, express trains!)
  • Wareham at the 25/195/495 junction. Three interstate-grade highways! Count 'em, three! Get the casino to rebuild that interchange in exchange for carte blanche to build up around it. You're free to take the exit that dumps you into the garage they're sure to build, or just look at the complex as you speed on by to better places!
  • Just south of I-495 east of Lowell and north of Tewksbury. Perhaps too close to Lowell, but there's definitely a noticeable hole that we could easily drop a casino into. It's on the other side of 495, so the risk of blighting Lowell is considerably reduced - not that we should let that stop us from milking the casino dry of mitigation improvements to the Lowell Line, 495 and US-3.
  • Dedham-Westwood at Route 128 Station, the comedy option. We can make the casino the latest in a long line of development mega-projects at that overblown station, all of which inevitably run into problems and fail. Still, maybe the casino can muscle its way in!
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NIMBYism

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is when people are unwilling to accept the local consequences of something that's for their benefit and/or the greater good. Casino's aren't good for anybody except casino owners and their lackeys.

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The writer makes some interesting points

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but to no avail, I'm afraid. Once Caesar's starts spreading the cash around to the elected officials of our fair city, the Suffolk Downs casino will happen.

Some of your points baffle me though. Do you really think the North End will see a closure of restaurants because of a casino buffet?

Can you seriously think for one second that over half the restaurants in Day Square will go out of business because of a casino? Not likely.

I can tell you one thing, the local wise guys are the ones really up in arms about the thought of Suffolk Downs becoming a casino. That shithole has been the perfect place for all kinds of criminal activity for years. Why? Because no one has cared about what goes on there for years, especially the cops.

And casino workers sleeping "several to a bed"? Really? When did Apple get into the casino business?

Lastly, I wonder how much time our community activist spends cleaning up all of the losing scratch tickets one finds strewn all over the street in Maverick Square?

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dvdoff, I like you

But you're incorrect about the cops not caring about SD. Tell that to the unit who thought I was on drugs and accosted me as I left the building once with Daily Racing Form in hand.

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Nicely done, Steve Holt

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This is a pretty damning set of arguments, and make the last few pro-casino posts sound a little silly. I wish there were links to data; Steve Holt, do you have citations available for the U Illinois study, the union suggestions that workers go on public assistance, and the crime increases associated with casino construction? (I'm not trying to imply any sort of disbelief, I'd just be interested in seeing raw numbers)

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Citations

Here you go, erik g., et al:

U. of Ill. Study: J. Kindt, Senior Ed. (Ed.). 2009. Gambling with Crime, Destabilized Economies, and Financial Systems, 1-1,286. Buffalo, New York: William S. Hein and Company, Inc. (order here: http://www.casinowatch.org/studies_research/Kindt_...)

Public assistance: http://www.lvrj.com/business/casino-workers-urged-... http://cnsnews.com/news/article/ac-casino-workers-...

Crime: Several reports, but here's a good one - Grinols and Mustard download, p.14 Figure 6: Percentage increases calculated by dividing year one figures by year seven figures as reported by Grinols and Mustard (http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id...)

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You want to know what else

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You want to know what else causes "crime, traffic, pollution and gambling addiction rates"? The residents of East Boston. And, bear in mind, I say this as a resident of East Boston.

The degree of littering / improper disposal of trash is mind-boggling. And, predominant in the litter and filth are loads and loads of scratch tickets (you'd swear that "Cashwords" is the official ESL curriculum).

So, there's pollution and poor decision making w/r/t gambling already.

Crime appears to be down, but it's still not the 'burbs, and traffic is like bumper cards more often than not.

I'm not too sold on the idea of a casino nearby, but it's not as if these problems don't already exist in the neighborhood.

(And, problem gamblers aren't created. There will always be people with tendencies toward addictive and compulsive behavior, or with horrible management of their money and priorities.)

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howdy, neighbor

RexH,
First off, hi! Hope to run in to you around Eastie sometime. (not in our cars, of course...)

What you're saying isn't exactly a convincing argument that I'm wrong for opposing this casino. I ask: would a casino, with its added consequences, IMPROVE those aspects of the neighborhood? I argue it wouldn't. We've seen unprecedented improvement in Eastie over the last 20 years or so -- lower crime, better real estate, improved parks and transportation, etc. It's not perfect.

But I believe a casino takes us in the opposite direction of where we've been headed in recent decades.

As for "creating addicts," you're right, technically. "Create" may have been a poor word choice, but it's less clumsy than "activate a predisposition to gambling addiction." Having a casino nearby does just that, and the stats don't lie -- the report I cited counted NEW problem gamblers in the proximity of casinos. (and I didn't mention in the piece that Caesars' whole model is centered around marketing to "frequency gamblers" in the region surrounding a casino. So there's no doubt that additional problem gamblers would be "created" in Boston and beyond)

Thanks for reading ... I appreciate the comment!

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The Sky is Falling...or is it?

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Steve

I appreciate your passion and your insight into this very important issue. I am an Eastie resident (most of my life) and have followed this issue closely. I have listened to both sides and can understand that with issues like this neither side has all of the right answers. As I have done with Suffolk Downs on a number of occasions, I wanted to ask you a few questions about some of the claims being made by what I assume is the organized "opposition" to this issue.

First, on the issue of gambling addiction and the claims that this is going to lead to a greater problem. It is my understanding that the amount of money that goes towards gambling addiction in the Commonwealth is abysmally low (if non-existent). Considering that we have a great deal of "gambling" already in the Commonwealth (keno, horse racing, numbers game, scratch tickets, etc.) or easily accessible to the Commonwealth's inhabitants (Foxwoods/Mohegan), it seems that how we deal with gambling addiction is already a problem (from a treatment standpoint). As part of your argument, have you considered the requirements that a portion of the gaming revenues generated must go towards gambling addiction programs? Also, have you thought about the impact of exclusion lists?

Second, your comment that there has been "unprecedented improvement in Eastie over the last 20 years or so -- lower crime, better real estate, improved parks and transportation" is interesting. As someone who has lived in the community for far more than 20 years, I have had the chance to witness the transformation - especially with respect to our parks (which in turn have led to better real estate values lower crime etc.). I am not sure if you are aware but you might want to consider the source of funding for these improvements for (as unfortunately open and green space are seemingly low on the priority list for state and city budgets). I believe the construction - and probably more importantly the maintenance and security - of Piers Park, the Bremen Street Park, the soon to be connector between Bremen Street Park and Orient Heights, and the Bayswater Edge Buffer are all the results of "mitigation" as a result of hosting the nation's 13th busiest airport. Does that make them less important to our neighborhood? Will opponents stop using the park system now because of that? Of course not.

Transportation improvements? Yes traffic can be difficult at times in the neighborhood - and there is a need to make even more improvements. But with declining revenues and proposed increases in taxes to make up budget shortfalls, can we really wait for the state to help us fix our problems? Is it really realistic to assume that the $450 million in wish list traffic improvements along the North Shore corridor will happen anytime soon with state or federal money? Doubtful if you consider that It took more than 10 years just to get a short road for commercial vehicles completed to help ease some congestion in Day Square - and yes Massport helped pay the cost undoubtedly in another form of "mitigation". You may not drive or use the tunnels that frequently but I am pretty happy that when I do, I don't have to pay $3.50 every time I travel to work through the Ted Williams tunnel - and I am not alone. Again - another form of mitigation.

If you are a resident that lives along the Blue Line corridor - and you lived here in the 90s you would know that the MBTA was forced to soundproof every home in East Boston and Beachmont (many of which did not qualify for Massport soundproofing) as a result of the mere existence of the Blue Line. Most people who took advantage of the program received a benefit of about $25,000 in home improvements - again mitigation.

When Massport removed an obsolete blast wall at the end of Runway 22L, many residents were opposed to the idea - despite an independent consultant's report that with cleaner jet engine technology and the height of newer planes the fence provided little to any benefit to the neighboring community - Massport ultimately offered to enhance the soundproofing of homes in the area. Central air conditioning to almost 200 homes (many of who opposed the fence's removal) was yet another form of mitigation.

So tell me again what is wrong with a developer spending $40+ million to improve a portion of a roadway that has been a traffic hotspot for not just Suffolk Downs but the area in general? With only 2 other alternatives to a Casino - i.e. no action or some other development- are either of those options going to provide the same level of improvement or ...gulp..."mitigation"? If so, I am all ears.

I have lived here for longer than most who might be opposed to the concept of a Casino at Suffolk Downs. I have attended my fair share of community meetings and have heard all of the arguments about how the Ted Williams Tunnel, or a new runway 14/32, or a centerfield taxiway, or a freight facility on McLellan Highway, or relocating a portion of the highway on Bremen Street, or the addition of three (3) hotels at the airport will "ruin our neighborhood" or lead to more crime, lower property values, and loss of economic benefit. But has it?

Crime in East Boston is amongst the lowest in the City of Boston - despite the fact that 28 million people have to travel through our "neighborhood" annually all while patronizing the restaurants, bars and hotels located at the airport. I don't know about you, I know a lot more nervous flyers who enjoy a "cocktail" or two than I do problem gamblers. Not sure if there has been a spike in drunk driving incidents as a result of the airport - despite the widespread availability of alcohol on flights and just about every 800 feet or so at the airport.

Although Real Estate values are not the final indicator of where a Neighborhood is going, Boston Magazine reports that property values in East Boston having increased more than any other town in Greater Boston since 2011 (38%). I find this an interesting statistic, even with the prospect of a Casino being located in our neighborhood - especially when you consider that Money Magazine named Bensalem PA (home to Parx Casino and Racetrack) one of the best places to live in America (a stat that I admit was provided by Suffolk Downs but verified).

Amazingly, with all of these things that have happened in this neighborhood, people still invest, shop, dine, work, and make their home here - more so now than ever it seems.

With Suffolk Downs having operated and more importantly co-existed with the neighborhood for more than 70 years and with gambling already available to those who want to gamble - I just don't see the issue the same way that many who oppose it do. I will reserve my judgment until I see what is being offered to the community.

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Exactly my point

"Amazingly, with all of these things that have happened in this neighborhood, people still invest, shop, dine, work, and make their home here - more so now than ever it seems."

I'm glad someone who's been in the neighborhood so long recognizes this! Our restaurants are known city-wide, we have a growing arts community, a diverse population, relatively inexpensive housing -- we have so much to look forward to in East Boston.

So I ask: why would we bring in the equivalent of a Walmart on steroids -- except that it doesn't dispense any actual product -- to threaten all that we've built?

As for the Massport parks, I'm thankful for those. I am. What's done was done 40 years ago, and there's no going back. I'm glad Massport has done right by the community and been a (pretty) good neighbor. But the truth is (as you know), airport expansion wasn't a fair process when it happened and didn't involve enough input from the community. Expansion moved forward despite the overwhelming disapproval of the community. I've even heard that some of the first demolition of Wood Island Park happened under the cover of night -- correct me if I'm wrong on that.

We are merely exercising the right previous Eastie generations should have had to weigh in, protest, and protect what we have. In the end, the will of the people was not respected with regard to airport expansion. We believe it will be in the case of the casino.

Steve Thank you for your

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Steve

Thank you for your reply. You are certainly entitled to your opinion and you are right in some respects - there can never be sufficient redress for the taking of Wood Island.

But my point was more directed at your criticism of development "mitigation" as if it is a bad thing. The Parks we have in East Boston (as well as a commitment for security, maintenance and operation all paid for by Massport) were not a result of the original construction of the Airport but rather a negotiation with the community in the 90s for expansion of existing facilities - such as the airport and roadways that were part of the Central Artery Project - which already maintained a presence in the neighborhood. In other words, expansion and development of the airport and associated roads and infrastructure which brought more impact (good and bad) to the neighborhood resulted in a number of positives that the community ultimately benefitted from. Sure, there was opposition to the expansion but that helped drive the discussion towards holding various Agencies' feet to the fire for better and more substantial investments in the neighborhood. I think you will agree that having Bremen Street Park (instead of a commercial parking lot) located across from the pre-school on Putnam Street for example has not only made the area more desirable for that venture but has in fact helped generate interest in commercial and residential development where nobody would have considered it before.

So why should Suffolk Downs' development proposal be approached any differently? (and please don't tell me because it will involve gambling and serving alcohol - there are quite a few bars and restaurants in this neighborhood that my family and I frequent that have offered that for some time and it hasn't made this neighborhood any worse)

What I may be most confused about all of this is as follows (hopefully you can answer these questions):

If you don't want to see Suffolk Downs developed into a resort casino (which is a facility that has existed in this neighborhood for 70+ years with gambling) what do you expect to see happen there?

Since Suffolk Downs has committed to spend around $40 million on traffic improvements to McLellan Highway as part of their development, who do you expect would pay to correct the traffic issues on Route 1A and other areas around the community at no cost to taxpayers if the Casino plan is rejected? Or do we just forget about it?

What other realistic ideas do you propose that would (a) invest a billion dollars in the site; and (b) according to Suffolk Downs, create 3500 jobs? (and to the extent that you believe these are miserable low paying jobs, I have a list friends who have either been unemployed or who can only find part time work who would be happy to have another job to better help make ends meet)

How would you propose convincing some other developer that before they can proceed, they will require a majority vote of the community and must enter into a Host Community Agreement and provide mitigation for their development proposal?

If you get your wish, then what happens?

My point is that it's a lot easier to be against an idea - but a lot more difficult to come up with your own ideas that offer practical solutions that make sense. While I have heard a lot of reasons why it shouldn't be a casino (many of which haven't convinced me), I haven't heard one alternative from those opposed except maybe a museum, a hospital, a water park, minor league baseball field or maintaining it all as open space. Really? I think you can agree that alternative ideas should be realistic considering that we are dealing with dozens and dozens of acres of privately owned land - not public land being disposed of through a public bid process.

In reality, if it is not developed into a casino, then I would guess that it will be carved up and redeveloped for commercial, industrial and residential purposes. Wait - does that not have any impacts?

With its proximity to downtown, the airport and multiple traffic routes, are you not at all concerned that other types of developments may bring similar impacts that you claim would be experienced with a Casino - just without the same level of "mitigation" for the community? I know I am.

I think these are all fair and important questions that should be answered as part of any well reasoned opposition to a project for the same reasons a proponent answers questions about its proposal.

I look forward to your response and thank you for your time.

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Good questions all!

Appreciate the civil dialogue, as always!

Re: mitigation
Have we benefited from the mitigation projects from Massport over the years? Of course we have. If we had to have airport expansion and the destruction of an historic, Olmstead-designed park, then we damn well better get paid off nicely for it. But I ask: When did the bulk of that mitigation begin to show up? My understanding is that it was WAY after the fact. Like decades. Casino companies have a track record of squirming their way out of these agreements on technicalities or, in some cases, by actually changing the law.

And don't think for a minute that when it's no longer financially feasible for Caesars Downs to keep horse racing going -- which, looking at the demographics, seems likely to happen sooner rather than later -- they won't shut down that part of the operation. "Saving Horse Racing at Suffolk Downs" is a decoy for replacing it with a more addictive, more impactful gambling industry.

But I digress.

As for what should go there instead, there are TONS of options on that front. This argument I hear over and over that a casino is the only thing that can be built on that space is, frankly, so silly. A year or so ago, I began to put together slides of some possibilities. I'm sure you'll find reasons why each of these aren't feasible (just like I counter the feasibility/advantage of a casino!), but these are projects that currently exist on similar spaces in other cities and are offering jobs, residual advantages for the community, and ACTUAL GOODS AND SERVICES. Admittedly, $1B is a big price tag for any alternative project to match, but if I'm right when I say that the jobs a casino will cancel out in local businesses significantly downplays the jobs argument, then several of these alternatives begin to look better and better.

http://noeastiecasino.tumblr.com/

An idea that didn't make it onto this site yet is for a community college campus. Talk about something that is needed in this area and gives back to the community in significant ways. As I watched Suffolk Downs present its green/sustainable plans for the casino campus the other night, all I could think was, "This would be an AMAZING community college campus! I'd totally take my son bike riding on these trails!"

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Good Ideas

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All good (no, I mean great ideas) for alternatives to a Casino. But ideas require capital, investment, risk and most importantly opportunity. Something that the casino developers have while nobody else really does. More importantly, none of these alternatives are "utopias" by any stretch and I am bit surprised that an argument against a casino cites increased crime and traffic as reasons to reject it - especially while support these types of alternatives. As I see it, crime is crime and traffic is traffic no matter what the catalyst. The difference is how you are prepared to handle it and whether there are resources to address it. For example would the technology park with restaurants and shopping ensure that the number of shoplifting incidents wouldn't increase with the total square footage of retail space being added? How about a soccer or baseball field or water park? Foxboro and Fenway park don't have their share of traffic impacts or unruly fans that may consume a bit too much alcohol? Additional residential units don't demand more city services, such as fire and police and classroom seats? More restaurants and shopping attractions in a mall (which is designed to keep people there) are not going to hurt local businesses? If you truly believe that all of those ills are likely to happen as a result of a casino - then my guess is that you should be advocating against any of those uses as well - and maybe more so since none of those uses would be saddled (pardon the pun) with the requirements of the legislation that force a casino developer to make substantial contributions to the host community. Am I wrong here? If not, maybe it is time to start thinking about changing the name from "No Eastie Casino" to "No Anything at Suffolk Downs Except a Vacant 100+ Acre Lot". Just a thought.

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Alternatives

Traffic has never been my preferred reason for opposing the casino, personally, but I do know it's a big deal to many. (I don't drive much, especially north, so I'm not affected as much by increased traffic up that way)

And you may have a point about the stadiums and the increased drinking / DUIs / general rabble-rousing in the immediate area. The community would need to decide whether some spillover from games is an impact they're willing to absorb in exchange for the economic development that would inevitably spring up around a sports stadium. (as opposed to a casino, which attempts to keep people inside and avoid spillover to local businesses!)

But I would take any of these -- or nothing at all (the "empty lot", I guess) -- before I'd accept a casino, whose impacts and predatory practices have been documented for decades. I'm fine with SD remaining a sleepy, aging race track, too -- people are correct when they say SD has been a good neighbor. Or, I'd even be OK with SD putting the unions to work giving the current facility a facelift.

Just no slots. Slots seem so harmless, and yet data show that they bring with them a world of problems communities have a hard time anticipating. (lots of great info at http://uss-mass.org/)

Say, I'm curious: What part of East Boston do you live in?

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Good Discussion

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I too appreciate the civil dialogue. I think this is important to both sides of the issue. As for where I live - how about I consider myself from everywhere! My parents grew up in the Maverick Projects (as it used to be called!). I have lived in the "Flats", spent my adolescent years in Eagle Hill and my older years in Orient Heights, where I remain a homeowner. Lets continue this. Ok?

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Adam, can you please

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Add this article to the "Casino Commonwealth" section of this website?

Thanks!

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Mitigation

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Here's an example of what happens to casino mitigation agreements:

W.Va. casinos seek break from taxes, racing phylly.com

"Five Democratic senators sponsored the measure, including two whose district includes the Northern Panhandle casinos. It would cut the annual fee that each casino now pays to host table games such as craps and roulette by more than half, from $2.5 million to $1 million.

The fees benefit senior citizen programs, and the bill proposes offsetting the resulting annual $6 million revenue loss by dipping into the purse fund for race winners by that amounrace winners by that amount.

The state's share of table game proceeds would drop from 35 percent of gross receipts to 25 percent. This tax on table games reaped $78.1 million during the last budget year, and the proposed rate change would have reduced that amount by $22.3 million.

Read more: http://www.philly.com/philly/business/20130306_ap_...
Watch sports videos you won't find anywhere else

Read more: http://www.philly.com/philly/business/20130306_ap_...
Watch sports videos you won't find anywhere else

http://www.philly.com/philly/business/20130306_ap_...

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