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East Boston group readies to battle casino

Seeks OK to raise funds

A small-but-determined group of people who oppose a casino in East Boston is digging in for a duel with a multibillion-dollar gaming giant that has announced plans to build a luxury gambling emporium at Suffolk Downs.

The group, No Eastie Casino, plans to run a door-to-door campaign to raise awareness of what its members consider the downsides of a casino at Suffolk Downs: an increase of traffic, a less-than-promised increase in jobs for locals, and a rise in crime. And they say that once they get the word out, a majority of East Bostonians will take their side.

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“We’re relying on word-of-mouth and shoe leather,” Celeste Myers, cochairwoman of the group, said Wednesday. “We’re all pounding the pavement talking to folks and we’re all spreading out.”

To help fund their effort, the group applied to the state on Tuesday for the right to collect funds legally. Myers acknowledged that the group, founded in November after the legislation allowing for three casino permits in Massachusetts passed, currently has “absolutely no finances” to fight the b­illion-dollar proposal unveiled Tuesday by Caesars Entertainment and Suffolk Downs.

Having the right to collect money is no guarantee that No Eastie Casino will collect enough to run an effective publicity campaign against a gaming juggernaut. A group opposed to a casino in Taunton, for example, was able to raise just $1,011.58 over two weeks ending May 31, according to filings with the city clerk.

“It is a challenge,” Myers said. “We don’t have billions of dollars behind us.”

They don’t have a huge following, either. The group’s Facebook page had 158 members as of Wednesday. Its mailing list, Myers said, has 500 names.

According to the 2010 Census, East Boston has more than 40,000 residents. Revere, a city of more than 50,000, would ­also have a vote on the casino.

The state is required to announce such a vote at least 60 days in advance, and Myers said her group has a 60-day plan to mobilize voters once that bell sounds.

“We’re willing to pull out all the stops,” Myers said. “If tomorrow they flip the switch and we have 60 days, we’re ready to go 100 miles per hour.”

The 40-year-old lifelong resident of Orient Heights expressed confidence that if the vote had been held Wednesday, the casino proposal would be defeated, 60 percent to 40 percent.

Myers said she has talked to many residents who have concerns that may sway their vote against the proposal, even if they like the idea of a casino.

John Guarino, a former Suffolk Downs employee who lives in Revere, might be the kind of person Myers is talking about. He said he is “on the fence,” but has problems with the plan.

“The proposal doesn’t pay any attention to the poor in the area, it just makes all parts of life harder on them,” Guarino said. “The plans don’t even show the projects.”

People trying to get to work, he said, will be stuck in lines at nearby bus and MBTA stations.

Caesars Entertainment chief executive Gary W. Loveman said Tuesday that the concerns about increased crime following the casino are unfounded, but he acknowledged traffic in the area would increase.

A dozen East Boston residents interviewed Tuesday said they would welcome the casino because of the jobs it would bring.

Myers hopes to persuade the public that this promise is an illusion. “A lot of people here think they’re going to be dealers and pit bosses,” she said. “You know they’re going to bring in trained people.”

Matt Woolbright can be reached at matt.woolbright@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at reportermatt.
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