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.