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City Council, mayoral candidates discuss city-wide vote for casino

Posted by Your Town  September 21, 2013 08:18 AM

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With the contest for Mayor Tom Menino’s successor at a critical stage, the Boston City Council is primed to follow the mayor’s wishes in scheduling a casino vote in East Boston on Nov. 5.

Mayoral candidates Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley and Codman Square Health Center founder Bill Walczak both attended a Friday committee hearing in the hopes that the council would favor a citywide election on the proposed casino at Suffolk Downs.

“I think it’s a big con on the city of Boston, the whole thing,” Walczak told reporters. “The job number’s inflated; the revenue numbers are inflated. This is a con on the city.”

Conley, who also favors a citywide vote because he said a casino in East Boston would impact the whole city, said, “I’m not going to tell people how to vote, but you probably read between the lines. I’m very skeptical of a casino moving forward here in our city.”

Conley and Walczak were spectators during the first part of the hearing, when city councilors explained their thinking on the issue and occasionally questioned the City Hall lawyers and representatives from Caesar’s Entertainment and Suffolk Downs, including track chief operating officer Chip Tuttle.

“I’d like to welcome Chip Tuttle and his team to the Boston City Council and congratulate you on your good fortune to be applying for a casino license in the middle of our first mayor’s race in decades,” said Councilor Mike Ross, who is one of five councilors seeking the mayoralty.

A preliminary election Tuesday will cull the field of 12 to two finalists, and the day after, the Boston City Council is expected to vote to establish the Nov. 5 election. An elected official counted the council going 9-4 or 10-3 in favor of limiting the vote to East Boston.

Committee chairman Bill Linehan will likely give a committee report next Wednesday, which would bring the order for an East Boston vote up for a vote of the council or amendment, City Hall officials said.

Charles Yancey, the longest-serving councilor who is in the running for mayor as well as his council seat, is the only mayoral candidate on the council who wants a citywide vote, though Ross and others said they do not support casinos.

“I’m disappointed in our state Legislature and even in our governor for going along with it,” Ross said of the casino law that allows for one license in eastern and central Massachusetts.

With Everett moving forward on plans to build a Wynn Resorts casino along the Mystic River near Charlestown, Ross said the horse track that spans East Boston and Revere would be a better deal for city residents.

Menino was not in the room and will be out of office in less than four months, but an East Boston-only vote would be a victory for the mayor of more than 20 years, who has backed the Suffolk Downs proposal and negotiated the host community agreement.

“This is about jobs and this is about revenue to our city, period,” said Councilor Rob Consalvo, who is also seeking the mayoralty. “This is morphing into a debate about the morality of a casino…That ship has sailed. Our Legislature has decided that casinos are a legal business.”

The Boston Globe recently reported there is substantial skepticism about the ability of Suffolk Downs to meet its $1 billion revenue projection, and casino representatives and city lawyers stood by that figure during questioning from Ross, and outlined the specifics of how they calculate salaries and what their traffic improvements will be to Councilor John Connolly, who has been leading in the mayoral race polls.

Caesars Entertainment President of Central Markets and Partnership Development John Payne said the lowest revenue of any of its 20 urban casinos since 2007 was about $280 million made by a New Orleans, La., casino one year.

Tuttle said Aqueduct Racetrack, in the Queens borough of New York City, makes more than $800 million on slots alone, without a hotel and with another gambling venue within 15 miles. He also rejected the notion that the roughly $300 million collected at a Caesars-owned Cleveland casino is comparable to the proposed development nearby Logan International Airport.

“That’s sometimes like comparing the Cleveland Indians to the Boston Red Sox,” Tuttle said.

Councilor Felix Arroyo, another mayoral candidate who used to work for the Service Employees International Union, said he appreciated casino representatives saying the average salary would be $42,000 and wanted to know about the means for securing the agreement.

“We’ve heard lots of promises from developers over the years. Some have been realized; some have not,” Arroyo said.

“This is a binding contract,” said City Hall attorney Elizabeth DelloRusso.

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