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Mayoral candidates should back a citywide casino referendum

With the field of candidates finally taking shape, the first sparks are flying in Boston’s mayoral race. One of the sharpest disagreements has been over whether Boston should hold a citywide vote on the proposed casino at Suffolk Downs in East Boston. How the candidates come down on the referendum is providing an early indication of whether they are willing to stand up to special interests.

Under the 2011 law, casino plans in all Massachusetts municipalities must go before voters. But the law’s authors tacked on a casino-friendly caveat for Boston: The city can limit the referendum to only the ward affected, which proponents assumed would smooth the path to a Suffolk Downs resort. But the city as a whole would assume the cost of public services for the casino — and the risks that attend legalized gambling.

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To their credit, mayoral candidates Daniel Conley, John Barros, and Bill Walczak have all announced they are in favor of an all-Boston referendum. That leaves others in the difficult position of asking Boston voters to support their mayoral bids, while simultaneously telling them they can’t be trusted in assessing a casino bid. Rob Consalvo, Michael Ross, Martin J. Walsh, John Connolly, and Felix Arroyo are among those who’ve declined to back a citywide referendum.

Mayor Menino has been a stalwart supporter of the casino plan, but starting next year that won’t matter. How to handle the Suffolk Downs proposal will be one of the next mayor’s biggest challenges. As voters consider the candidates, they should remember which ones are supporting a full vote.

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