Suffolk Downs COO Chip Tuttle estimated tonight his company has spent about $1 million trying to convince East Boston residents to vote in favor of a casino at his racetrack. Organizers of No Eastie Casino in turns told members of the Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association they have spent less than $30,000 on their campaign against the proposal.
In contrast to a pro-casino rally in Revere a few nights earlier, no noses were broken at the association forum. The moderator of the event started out by laying down ground rules for civility; anybody being uncivil would be shown the door. To drive the point home, five uniformed police officers also kept watch over the generally mild-mannered crowd.
There was only one real outburst, when one man accused an anti-casino organizer of being "a traitor" because, he said, she handed over voter rolls to an official from the Salvadoran consulate. She said she had done no such thing.
Tuttle promoted the proposed $1-billon casino as a boon to the neighborhood and the city: 4,000 jobs, lots of green space, traffic improvements and even more money for gambling addiction, which he said would not increase with a casino because addicts in Massachusetts already have plenty of avenues for feeding their addiction.
And the casino will be the greenest ever, with the largest collection of solar panels on the East Coast and a system for turning all waste food into energy. Also, the horses will continue to race. And East Boston would get $20 million out of the $32 million to $52 million the project would pay Boston each year. Compare that, he said, to the $2.4 million the Red Sox pay each year in property taxes, he said.
He warned that if the casino doesn't go through, the track could close and the site could see a far more intensive mixed-use development project than a resort casino with two hotels.
One of the opponents, Matt Cameron, dropped a copy of the 200-page agreement between Suffolk Downs and the city on the ground, where it fell with a loud thud. Residents, he said, were almost entirely left out of the negotiations between the racetrack and the city and East Boston voters will be asked on Nov. 5 to approve something for which planning and criminal background checks aren't even finished, he said, adding that one of the investors in the project is Vornado, the company responsible for "the smoking hole" where Filene's used to be downtown.
Cameron, Curtis, Myers of No Eastie Casino.
Another No Eastie Casino organizer, Jessica Curtis, said the agreement talks a lot about "best efforts," which means there are no guarantees the city or East Boston will see all the revenue and jobs they've been promised. She said any increases in local jobs from the casino will be offset by job losses at neighborhood small businesses; traffic improvements offset by increased asthma from the exhausts of all those added cars. She added that all the decisions on how to spend East Boston's money will be made by people "on the other side of the harbor" and asked why East Boston residents should put themselves in a position to be dominated by Massport on one side and the casino on the other.
Group Co-Chair Celeste Ribeiro Myers said the money promised East Boston amounts to $400 a year per resident. She asked if that would be worth it to somebody who loses a job due to competition from the casino - or who has a child hit by a car driven by a drunk coming out of it.