St. Mark’s Area group supports single-ward vote on Hub casino

By 
Gintautas Dumcius, News Editor
Mar. 1, 2012

The St. Mark’s Area Civic Association met on Tuesday night and voted 11-5 to keep a referendum on a Boston casino confined to the ward in which the gambling facility would be located. The vote followed a discussion among members and a presentation from City Councillor At-Large Ayanna Pressley on the 2011 law allowing the establishment of casinos in the Bay State.

Suffolk Downs, an East Boston race track, is putting a together a proposal for a casino in conjunction with Caesars.

While the City Council is split on whether there should be a city-wide vote, Mayor Thomas Menino supports a vote in the ward where the casino would be located. According to the Menino administration, a city-wide referendum on the casino proposal could only occur with the approval of both the mayor and the City Council. Otherwise, a referendum would be restricted to an East Boston ward.

Supporters of a ward-only vote said East Boston would feel the negative impact that accompanies a casino. “They’re the ones who should make that decision,” said Camilla Duffy, age 69. The president of the civic group’s board of directors, Luis Jimenez, and one of the vice presidents, Douglass Hurley, said they voted for a ward-only referendum.

But supporters of a city-wide vote say the cost of public safety will affect the entire city. “The negative impacts aren’t just in their ward,” said Greg Thole, age 30.

State Rep. Marty Walsh, a Dorchester Democrat and a longtime backer of casinos, attended the meeting, which was held in the lower hall of St. Mark’s church, and noted that a casino will bring 2,000 jobs and stem the loss of revenue that Massachusetts gamblers who head to Foxwoods bring to Connecticut.

Walsh said he supports a ward-only vote, arguing that the city should not determine something that affects one neighborhood. He pointed to decades ago when Dorchester residents were able to stop the New England Patriots from building their football stadium on the Neponset Drive-In site, and asked how residents would have felt if that issue had been put to a city-wide vote.

“It’s a tough thing for us to tell them,” Walsh said of East Boston residents.

The casino law, signed by Gov. Deval Patrick in November, allows for three resort casinos and one facility with a slot machine. The law also splits the state into three regions, with one casino allowed per region. Boston is in “Region A,” which includes the counties of Suffolk, Middlesex, Essex, Norfolk and Worcester.

The legislation also sets up a five-member gaming commission, which will regulate the gambling industry. Patrick has tapped a dean at UMass Boston, Stephen Crosby, as the chair, while Attorney General Martha Coakley on Tuesday announced her choice, retired New Jersey State Police Lt. Col. Gayle Cameron. Treasurer Steven Grossman is also slated to pick a commissioner. The remaining two will be joint picks made by Patrick, Coakley, and Grossman.

Pressley acknowledged struggling with the issue of casinos and whether there should be a ward-only or city-wide referendum, and told St. Mark’s civic association members that she wanted to hear their views.