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East Boston and Revere voters flock to polls to cast votes on Suffolk Downs casino proposal, city election

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  November 5, 2013 10:26 AM

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Voters in East Boston and Revere flocked to the polls Tuesday morning to vote on a controversial do-or-die referendum that would allow for a casino to be built at Suffolk Downs.

When the $1 billion proposal was unveiled last year, it appeared to have strong support. But, leading up to Election Day, the neighborhood has become increasingly divided.

As negotiations around the proposal dragged on, opponents have had more time to try to sway potential voters.

And, three weeks ago, Suffolk Downs abruptly dropped partner Caesars Entertainment from the proposal after state gambling commission investigators recommended the prominent casino corporation be disqualified from bidding in part because of its relationship with a New York hotel company that includes ownership with alleged ties to Russian gangsters.

The proposal remains without a casino operator, though Hard Rock International is reportedly a leading contender to replace Caesars.

At the East Boston High School polling location, nearly two dozen people stood outside making an array of last-minute pitches to voters. Some lobbied over the casino issue, mayoral and City Council races, or to sign a petition supporting a statewide ballot question over a proposed law to limit the number of patients a nurse is assigned to at a time.

As she made her way through the crowds in front of the school, Julie Lopilato, 40, said she planned to vote yes to support the casino proposal.

But, it wasn't an easy decision, she said.

"You have influence from a lot of different people, but I've made this decision on my own."

She said many of her friends work at Suffolk Downs and she worries that without the casino the track could close and they would lose their jobs.

Anthony DiBenedetto, 62, said he too voted yes on the casino proposal, but "I was torn."

He cited his concern over traffic the casino could bring to the neighborhood.

"There's good arguments on both sides. But it came down to economic development and jobs," he said. "Let's face it, if there's no casino it [Suffolk Downs] is closing.]"

Meanwhile, Krysten Hunt, 24, said she was going to vote against the casino proposal.

She cited concerns over traffic, pollution, crime and gambling addiction.

"All that stuff? No thanks. It's fine the way it is," she said.

Revere held its own vote Tuesday over whether to support or reject the casino proposal, which would straddle the East Boston-Revere line.

If voters in either East Boston or Revere decide not to approve the proposal, it will die.

If voters in both communities approve the casino proposal, Suffolk Downs will continue to battle for the lone Greater Boston resort casino license against two others: a Wynn Resorts proposal in Everett and a Foxwoods proposal in Milford.

In June, Everett voted to back the casino proposal there; Milford residents are slated to vote Nov. 19.

Many of those who oppose a casino in East Boston fear it would take jobs and money from existing businesses and that it would bring other negative consequences like increased crime, traffic, and gambling addiction.

Supporters of the casino proposal have said the project would bring jobs and money to the neighborhood and would save the historic racetrack, which might shut down if the casino is not approved.

One recent poll about the East Boston vote showed opposition for the casino at 46 percent and support at 42 percent, while another showed 47 percent of neighborhood voters supporting the track and 42 percent opposing.

Meanwhile, voters in Eastie and elsewhere in Boston cast ballots in another close contest – the city’s mayoral race, which pits City Councilor John R. Connolly against State Rep. Martin J. Walsh.

The winner will replace Thomas M. Menino, who has battled health problems in recent months and decided not to run for office ending his run as mayor at 20 years, the longest anyone has held the position in Boston’s history.

Lopilato said she picked Walsh.

"I like what he stands for. I feel he'll be the best candidate for the job," she said.

DiBenedetto said he voted for Connolly.

"It's not that I don't like the other guy, but I feel you should be more independent as mayor," he said.

As Hunt headed into the high school, she said she had not yet made up her mind on her mayoral vote.

"I'm winging it right now," she said.

Lopilato said she was also sad "in a way" to see Menino heading out of office.

"He's kind of a relic," she said.

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at matthew.rocheleau@globe.com.

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