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Opinion: East Boston, we can do better than a casino

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  May 10, 2012 12:57 PM

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suffolk downs race.jpg

(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)

A scene from Suffolk Downs.

Recently, I joined the group No Eastie Casino, and I feel I needed to explain why I feel so compelled to take up this issue in such a public way.

I’m not a native East Bostonian, but I have lived in Massachusetts for most of my life. My husband and I bought a home in Eagle Hill in East Boston almost seven years ago after living in various apartments in Brighton and Somerville for 10 years.

I love Eastie. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have multiple East Boston propaganda speeches, and I try to give back to my community in any way I can. Over the years, I have met people (both old-time families and newcomers) who care just as deeply about our community and are willing to work hard to make it the best place it can be.

One of the things I love about Eastie is that we feel like we live on an island (because we do). There are defined island boundaries, and we’re surrounded by water. This gives Eastie a completely different atmosphere from anywhere else in the city.

I love Eastie’s nautical history and the remaining ocean and boat culture that is pervasive. The Harbor Arts Gallery, the marinas, Piers Park Sailing Center, and the Jeffries Yacht Club are all unique and wonderful Eastie institutions that remind us in a very visceral way that we are tied to the ocean.

Eastie has a can-do attitude. It is a place where an idea or a cause can take root and flourish. I love that Madeleine Steczynski had an idea for the youth music empowerment organization ZUMIX, started it, now is ensconced in a beautiful renovated firehouse, and was recently given a national arts award from Michelle Obama.

I love how a group of Eastie moms had an idea for a dream school and formed Harbor City School in just a couple of years. I love the Atlantic Works Gallery. I love how Chris Marchi and Air Inc. got the East Boston Greenway extended. I love the legacy of the Maverick Mothers who lay down in the road to stop airport traffic from coming through their neighborhood.

Eastie’s small businesses are the cornerstone of our neighborhood. East Boston is a place where “boot-strapping” is possible, as evidenced by our hard-working small businesses, restaurants, and community organizations run by many first- and second-generation Americans. It is also a place where people take a lot of pride in their work, and it shows.

I love my daughter's pediatrician at the wonderful East Boston Neighborhood Health Center. I love candlepin bowling at the Central Park Lanes. I love the Bremen Street YMCA. I love the restaurants. I love the library, and I can't wait to see the new one. I read the East Boston Times-Free Press from cover to cover every week, and I love the articles about new mom-and-pop places opening.

I oppose a casino because what I’d like to see in Eastie is more of what makes this place special. What might be better for East Boston than a casino? A minor-league ball park? A new home for the New England Revolution? A Patriots training field? A new biotech development? A water park?

To grow further, Eastie needs something that will draw people and dollars to our community — and keep them here. I hope for something enriching, something cultural, something positive for moms and dads and kids.

I oppose a casino because I haven't heard a single convincing reason why a casino would be good for East Boston, and in particular for Eastie families. Just by nature, the gambling industry does not serve the middle class, children, or small businesses.

I have heard: A casino will bring income to the state. It will bring jobs for construction and workers in the casinos. But there are a million things that would provide more sustainable growth jobs for Eastie residents and would keep most of the money in small businesses in the area.

As Professor Jack R. Van Der Slik noted, “[casino gambling] produces no product, no new wealth, and so it makes no genuine contribution to economic development. It stimulates a great many people to make a series of small wagers. Most of them lose. A lot of revenue goes back to the few winners, a piece goes to the state … and a big slice pays for administering the game and advertising to attract more losers.”

Can’t we demand something better for our community than a casino? In the age when economic inequality is an urgent topic of public discussion, how can our legislators support an institution that would primarily benefit the already-wealthy casino owners?

A casino at Suffolk Downs may just become just another bad neighbor. East Boston already has two tunnels, a fuel tank farm, and an airport. Although there is a lot of debate about this, many Eastie residents fear that a casino would bring shady lending policies, increased crime, backdoor dealings, and even organized crime.

It undoubtedly will bring heavier traffic to an area that already burdened by north-south drivers. A recent independent study showed that to fix the current problems with the Route 1A infrastructure would cost the state almost $500 million.

First our elected representatives say a casino would bring more visitors to Eastie and more customers to Eastie’s small businesses, and then they say casino traffic won’t impact us because people will be getting to the casino by way of a flyover road from the airport. These two claims are mutually exclusive. Which is it? Will gamblers be driving on our streets or not?

In my opinion, the debate about traffic issues is a red herring to distract East Bostonians from the real issue of whether or not a casino is good for East Boston: do East Bostonians want a casino at all? The Big Dig solved the traffic issues from downtown to Logan, but we’re still stuck with the airport’s constant land- and airspace-grabbing. Until we have an independent, non-casino-funded community impact analysis we won’t know the true scope of what might happen in East Boston.

I contend that keeping a casino out of East Boston and repurposing the land to a different job-growing industry could create sustainable growth for East Boston, truly creating more sustainable business for area restaurants and shops. All I want is more of the Eastie we love, and less of the Eastie we don’t care for.

A casino in East Boston will probably be like my cousin’s ex-boyfriend: a slick guy, a fast car, and a gold card: someone who promises a lot and doesn’t deliver. My advice to her: “You can do much better than him.”

Eastie, we can do better than a casino.

Giordana Mecagni is resident of Trenton Street in East Boston.
Follow East Boston on Twitter: @YourEastBoston.

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