On campaign trail, Conley sharpens rhetoric against a Boston-area casino

Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley has sharpened his rhetoric against the development of a casino in or near Boston, telling voters in the final throws of the mayoral election that a gambling resort would drive up crime, change the city’s character, and hurt small business.

“It’s a bad idea for economic development,” Conley told a dozen small business owners and others Thursday at a campaign stop in Charlestown. “Casinos are just voracious consumers. They add nothing. The jobs are low-paid and part time. The only thing that makes money is the casino.”

Conley staked an early claim to the casino issued in May when he called for referendum that would require both citywide and East Boston approval for a proposed gambling resort at Suffolk Downs racecourse. Right now it appears a vote to approve the project will be limited to East Boston, but some city councilors are pushing for a citywide vote.

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Conley had stopped short of saying he was against a casino. Another mayoral candidate, former health care executive Bill Walczak, has made his opposition to the casino a centerpiece of his campaign.

But on Thursday, Conley spoke negatively about a proposed casino in campaign stops in East Boston, Charlestown, and elsewhere. At Paolo’s Trattoria in Charlestown, he listened to voters talk about the impact on a competing casino proposal in nearby Everett. They asked about the traffic and crime.

Conley said a casino in or near Boston would likely increase instances of domestic violence and lead to more gambling addiction. He also described casinos a bubble that draw business away from local restaurants and other establishments. The crowd agreed.

“From an economic point of view, you’d rather have a biotech company that puts money into the local economy,” said one person in the crowd, Michael Donovan, 66. “Casinos extract money from the local economy.”

In May when Conley first pushed for a citywide vote, he described as a “casino agnostic” who lacked strong feelings either way. On Thursday after a series of campaign stop, a reporter asked if Conley had changed his mind about a casino.

“People listening to me probably think I’m anti-casino,” Conley said. “I’m admittedly very skeptical of this idea. This is something I don’t want to jam down people’s throats, but I also don’t want to tell them what to think.”