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Somerville mayor leading effort to repeal casino law

Posted by Jarret Bencks  August 8, 2013 03:23 PM

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Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone is hoping the rest of the state will see casino development the way he does now that it is moving closer to reality.

Joining a coalition that includes a state senator, the president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, and the administrator of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, Curatone was one of the first 10 people to sign a petition calling for a ballot question asking voters to repeal the state's casino law.

"This is really the only opportunity the greater Commonwealth will have to engage, to comment on, what we believe is bad policy and a flawed piece of legislation," Curtatone said in a phone interview Thursday.

Curtatone has been vocal in his opposition to casinos as a source of revenue for the state, and particularly a proposal in Everett, located just across the Mystic River from Somerville. But Curtatone said the push for a ballot question is about more than protecting Somerville, calling casinos "economic development by desperation."

"This is bigger than the impacts on the City of Somerville, we're talking about a dramatic shift in the culture of the Commonwealth," he said. "The negative impacts are very dramatic. There will be a lot of sad stories. We're relying on fool's gold."

The proposed development in Everett, located at the former Monsanto factory site off of Route 99, has been met with criticism from officials in neighboring Medford and residents in Charlestown, along with Curtatone. Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria Jr. plans to address those criticisms in a press conference Friday. 

The Massachusetts casino law calls for referendum approval of a development by the host community. It also calls for developers to negotiate mitigation with neighboring communities, but does not require regional approval.

Curtatone said it was "unfathomable" that area communities do not have more say in proposed casino developments.

Everett's proposed casino site is only a couple hundred yards across the Mystic River from Somerville's Assembly Row, a massive, mixed-use development that has received over $130 million in public funding and over $1 billion in private money, and is currently under construction.

"We are going to risk that investment, and yet, only the voters of Everett get to vote on the proposal?" he said. "That, to me, is absurd."

The petition for a ballot question was filed Wednesday, and will take thousands more signatures to end up on the ballot.

The referendum would give Massachusetts voters a chance to change their minds on casinos, Curtatone said.

"I refuse to give into the fact that we should just accept this," he said. "It's never too late to step back and say is this not the right thing for the Commonwealth."

Jarret Bencks can be reached at bencks.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on twitter @JarretBencks.

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