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Murphy: Casino issue now headed for economic development committee

City Council President Stephen Murphy appears to be changing course on the 13-member body’s approach to the issue of siting a casino in Boston.

In an appearance on Chris Lovett’s Boston Neighborhood News (BNN) show, Murphy said he would announce on Wednesday he is referring the question of siting a casino to the Committee on Economic Development, chaired by District 2 Councillor Bill Linehan of South Boston. Murphy acknowledged that is different from what he announced at the first City Council meeting of the year, when he said he would set up a special committee to study gambling, with District Councillor Sal LaMattina of East Boston as its chair.

“The question is, where does the council go with the question of a casino,” Murphy told Lovett. “I originally thought it would be better to set up a special committee on the siting of a casino in East Boston. The members since that time have been persuading me, one by one, that it is better left, in their opinion, in the Committee on Economic Development, which is a full standing committee of the council.”

City Council President on Casino, Mentoring from Chris Lovett on Vimeo.

The state law authorizing the set up of three casinos across Massachusetts includes a provision allowing for a city-wide referendum on a casino, by a vote of the City Council. Otherwise, it would be a referendum limited to the ward the casino would be located in.

Mayor Thomas Menino has said he supports a ward vote.

“I don’t want to speak for the mayor, but part of the prevailing wisdom is that if you were talking about putting it in the middle of Franklin Park, well that’s geographically nearer to the center of the city and would impact a whole host,” said Murphy. “East Boston is geographically isolated. You have to either go over a bridge or go through a tunnel to get over there. So the question of whether or not there’ll be negative impacts, that’s going to be borne, much like the airport is, on the residents of East Boston.”

Murphy also reiterated his intention to ratchet up the pressure on Vornado Realty Trust, a company that wears two hats: one as a minority stakeholder in the proposal for an East Boston casino at the Suffolk Downs race track and another the company that created the hole in Downtown Crossing.

The mayor has had “direct” conversations with Vornado and has been rebuffed, Murphy said. “And I said, ‘Well gee,’ I said, ‘here’s an opportunity for us to leverage something that they’re looking for, in return for something that we’re looking for. And I just thought, let’s put it out there on Day One, that we’re not looking to partner with somebody who doesn’t want to partner with us. So that was my message on opening day and it’s having an impact. They want to come in and meet with me and they’ve conveyed that to the minority partner, the other partners, and I think maybe it’s going to make a difference for filling that hole quicker.”

Murphy added that he wants the construction jobs a casino would bring. “I think the issue of whether or not we’re going to have a casino has been decided,” he said. “Its question is where. And I certainly would like to see it in the city of Boston. But I also think that, not so fast. Let’s not turn a blind eye to somebody who’s not been willing to even engage us in the possibility of helping out on a site that they own. Because frankly I know they own it, and I know they’re questioning their investment, but the fact that they’re leaving it the way it is, it’s neglect, and it’s neglectful to the neighbors, to the city and frankly it doesn’t deserve us rushing to put more money in their coffers. It’s a delicate balance but I think you need to lay it out there.”