Council approves East Boston-only vote for casino

The Boston City Council voted 12-1 Wednesday in favor of holding an East Boston-only vote on the proposed casino at Suffolk Downs, shooting down calls that the vote be taken citywide.

Under state law, the casino vote was to include just East Boston residents unless the council and Mayor Thomas M. Menino intervened. Some—including council members and several mayoral candidates—had called for a citywide vote, arguing that a casino would have profound impact on the entire city and not just on East Boston.

In addition, some opponents of casino gambling believe a citywide vote would have a better chance of stopping a casino from coming to Boston. Mayoral candidates Bill Walczak and Daniel F. Conley made opposition to the casino and calls for a citywide vote the central message of their campaigns.

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But the wide majority of the council reasoned that because East Boston residents would be most affected, they should be the ones to ultimately decided if a casino is constructed.

“What if the whole city votes to support this casino, and East Boston votes no?” asked Councilor Salvatore LaMattina, who represents East Boston and urged his fellow council members to support a district-only vote.

Suffolk Downs officials praised the move by the council, saying that the East Boston-only vote was the right decision.

“The mayoral election results in Boston are indicative of the way people feel about the issue,” said Chip Tuttle, Suffolk Downs chief operating office, after the council meeting. “If you look around the city, the candidates who took anticasino positions didn’t seem to do very well at all. And a lot of the candidates who were for an East Boston-only questions, candidates who affirmed their support of our development, seemed to do very well. That’s indicative of the support that this proposal has around the city.

Councilor Matt O’Malley was the lone dissenter, casting his vote against the East Boston-only option after a series of counter proposals brought forth by him failed.

First, O’Malley proposed a hybrid option — under which the entire city would vote on the casino but that East Boston wards would hold veto power. Under that option, if the citywide vote turned out in favor of a casino but wards in East Boston voted against the casino, the plans would be scrapped.

Council President Stephen Murphy shot down that proposal, calling it “illegal” because the state law allows for either a district-only vote or a citywide vote — not a combination.

O’Malley attempted to override Murphy’s ruling, but the majority of the council agreed that the hybrid option did not pass legal muster.

Next, O’Malley put forth a motion to hold a citywide vote, a proposal also backed by councilors Tito Jackson and Charles Yancey.

The casino “has obvious cons when it comes to the very real social costs,” Jackson said as he addressed the council body. “This is something that will effect the city of Boston as a whole.”

But the three councilors were alone in supporting the citywide proposal, ultimately being outvoted 10-3, as several other members of the council rose to speak in support of an East Boston-only vote.

East Boston residents “are going to feel it, they’re going to wear it, and they should vote on it one way or another,” councilor Bill Linehan said.

City Councilor John R. Connolly, who on Tuesday won one of two spot on the final mayoral ballot, was present for the casino vote and — as he promised during the campaign — supported an East Boston-only referendum.

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