After a spirited debate on the Senate floor last week, where he had to fight thirteen opposing views, Senator Anthony Petruccelli was able to get a local referendum amendment into the Senate’s version of the state’s casino bill by a vote of 25-13. The amendment would allow only East Boston residents, most impacted by plans to put a resort-style casino at Suffolk Downs racetrack, to vote whether or not they want a casino in their back yard instead of Boston as a whole.
Only two senators from the Boston delegation opposed Petruccelli’s amendment. Both Senators Marian Walsh (D-Boston) and Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston) argued that a casino in East Boston would have impacts throughout all of Boston but Petruccelli successfully argued that due to East Boston’s geographic isolation residents here should have the final say.
“East Boston will have the loudest voice on the casino issue,” said Petruccelli. “While we have not been presented with what Suffolk Downs plans to do for local businesses, local non-profits and infrastructure, when we are presented with those plans East Boston residents will have the opportunity to accept a reject it through a local host community referendum vote.”
Suffolk Downs Chief Operating Officer Chip Tuttle said the racetrack was comfortable with Petruccelli and the Senate’s amendment.
“This amendment balances the needs of the East Boston community most affected by a resort-style casino with the city as a whole,” said Tuttle. “While the referendum would allow East Boston residents to be heard and host community agreement would be with the City of Boston as a whole.
Senator Petruccelli has been clear in our discussions over the past two years that East Boston should have the greatest say in what happens with this development.
Petruccelli’s amendment comes after Representative Carlo Basile was unable to get a local referendum amendment into the House version of the bill. Like Petruccelli Basile does not think it’s appropriate to make it a citywide referendum.
“I don’t think residents in Hyde Park should be telling us what we need over here in Eastie,” said Basile. “It should be up to the residents that are going to be most impacted.”
The House and Senate bill will create an estimated 15,000 jobs in the Commonwealth, deliver $260 million in up-front licensing fees to the state and bring an estimated $300 – 500 million in annual tax revenue.
Both Petruccelli and Basile said they would like to see Suffolk Downs’ owners invest between $50 and $100 million on infrastructure improvements along the Route 1A corridor.
Last week at an Kiwanis luncheon in East Boston, Suffolk Downs’ principal owner, Richard Fields, said he and his team are currently working on a plan to build a local incentive program that would encourage casino users to eat and shop locally from time to time. While Suffolk Downs’ plan would include a casino facility full of shops, high end restaurants and spas, Fields said at the luncheon that his goal is to drive some of his casino business into the neighborhood so people would not miss out on a chance to eat at places like Rino’s, Santarpio’s, Ecco or Angela’s Cafe.
“We are going to make changes in that building that will add a lot of wonderful stuff,” said Fields. “You have to put in exciting things because if you don’t people will drive right by. But unlike Mohegan and Foxwoods, we want to create an incentive program where you can redeem points not only in the casino but in the surrounding neighborhood of East Boston.”
He also said he understands and appreciates the concern and vowed to have infrastructure in place to handle any additional traffic a resort-style casino may pose on the McClellan Highway and Route 1A corridor.