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Casino vote should be citywide

The mayor’s race has rekindled the debate over whether a resort-style casino belongs in the city of Boston. Like candidate Bill Walczak, we are inherently suspect of such a proposition in the first place because the idea of siting such a venture in the capital city seems desperate and, as Walczak has said, “Boston is better than a casino.”

At the very least, such a dramatic shift in our local culture should occasion a robust civic conversation about the merits of such a project among all of our neighborhoods. As we have argued in this space since 2011— even before the casino bill became law on Beacon Hill— all Boston residents should get a chance to weigh in on an agreement to site a casino within city limits— no matter what neighborhood is most immediately impacted.

Critics of the bill say that it’s flawed because it allows a larger municipality to toggle between either a ward-only vote or a citywide plebiscite to ratify any agreement with a casino operator. In fact, the provision in the statute was inserted because lawmakers from Boston— led by Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz— were concerned that Bostonians-at-large might be disenfranchised by a ward-only vote. Chang-Diaz and colleagues eventually settled on a compromise amendment that gives the City Council the authority to take such a vote citywide and not, for example, exclusive to East Boston.

And that is exactly what the Council should do. It should vote to expand a casino referendum beyond East Boston’s Ward One to include all 22 wards within the city limits. This will compel casino interests — and their foes— to take their arguments to the city at large before any shovel hits dirt or, on the flip side, a developer is sent packing by parochial interests.

Dan Conley, the district attorney, makes a compelling case for the citywide vote and in doing so he has lost the support of one of his former East Boston stalwarts, Rep. Carlo Basile. But, Conley is right when he argues that the citywide implications of a gambling resort do not “end at the boundary lines of East Boston.”

City coffers will be needed to balance out new public safety and transportation concerns that accompany such destination gambling spots. How about the impacts of addiction and usury that will result from expanded access to predatory practices inside casino halls— especially targeting seniors. Will those be limited to just those who live in one neighborhood? And will the over-served gamblers — who will be welcome to drink for free at gaming tables— be set loose on just one neighborhood’s streets once they’ve cashed in their chips?

It can be tough to make citywide decisions, as evidenced by the lengthy process to restructure Boston’s student assignment plan. But why should we make it easy in this instance? A dramatic turn into casino culture cannot not be easily undone.

If a casino is such a good idea for our community, let’s make the gambling interests put their best foot forward and make the case for why we as a city should embrace it- as One Boston.

Mayoral candidates in video survey

This week the Reporter will begin featuring video interviews with the candidates for Mayor of Boston on our website. In the videos, produced by Reporter correspondent Mike Deehan, the candidates are asked to speak about their approach to specific topics. The first series— on crime and public safety— is available now at DotNews.com.