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Casino opponents take to East Boston streets in protest

Todd Antonellis was among the protesters in East Boston’s Maverick Square on Saturday who are opposed to a casino.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Todd Antonellis was among the protesters in East Boston’s Maverick Square on Saturday who are opposed to a casino.

East Boston residents opposed to a Las Vegas-style casino proposed for Suffolk Downs brought their fight to Maverick Square on Saturday.

About 40 people who withstood a brisk wind, many holding CasiNO! signs, said the $1 billion project proposed by Caesars Entertainment would increase traffic and take customers away from local restaurants and shops.

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“As I look around here today at all of these hardy souls, I know that each of you represents hundreds, if not thousands of people . . . that know, truly, that East Boston is a place for much better things than a casino,” said Celeste Myers, 41, co-chairwoman of No Eastie Casino, speaking into a bullhorn, shortly after 11 a.m.

Pedro Noe Morales, a longtime resident, said Hispanic business owners also fear the development would result in higher commercial rents.

“It is time for Latinos to rise up to fight back against this development and people who don’t care about us,” said Morales, holding his 2-year-old son, Eli, in his arms. “Eli is going to grow up in an East Boston without casinos.”

Owners of the 161-acre racetrack, which also lies in Revere, only recently reached out to the Latino community, months after meeting with other stakeholders, Morales said.

“We are particularly mad about the fact that they [Suffolk Downs] have ignored us for so long.” said Morales, a graduate student in theology at Harvard University.

Reacting swiftly to Saturday’s protest, Suffolk Downs chief operating officer Chip Tuttle said he mailed a letter to residents of East Boston and Revere.

“We have always made an effort to respect different points of view, share our plans as they are developed, and listen to our neighbors,” Tuttle wrote in the letter, which he e-mailed to the Globe. “Suffolk Downs believes in an open dialogue that includes ample opportunity for everyone to ask questions and let us know what they think.”

Suffolk Downs and Caesars Entertainment have applied for one of three resort casino licenses that will be awarded by the state’s Gambling Commission. They are vying for the one license available for Greater Boston. Other applicants are Wynn Resorts,which proposes a development for the Everett waterfront, and Crossroads Massachusetts, which proposes a resort casino in Milford.

Suffolk Downs supporters, led by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, have touted the potential for thousands of new jobs and tax revenues from the resort’s hotel, shops, and restaurants. The project also would include $40 million for road and traffic improvements for congested Route 1A, the state highway that leads to Suffolk Downs.

Project materials are published in Spanish and in English on the developer’s website, www.friendsofsuffolkdowns.com, as well as in printed materials, such as newspapers and direct mailings to homes and businesses, Tuttle’s letter stated.

State law requires casino developers to negotiate an agreement with host communities to address traffic, job opportunities, and other impacts of the development. Once an agreement is reached, the community has 60 to 90 days to hold a ballot referendum. Voters’ approval is required for a resort casino license to be awarded, according to the law.

Tuttle said Suffolk Downs still is negotiating with officials in Boston and Revere. Suffolk Downs recently held a Spanish-language meeting on the project and will hold a bilingual meeting about its traffic plan Wednesday at the racetrack.

“We really are making a good faith effort to reach out to people,” Tuttle said in a phone interview.

Still, there are skeptics.

“I assume the traffic will be horrendous, no matter how many overpasses they build,” said the Rev. Don Nanstad, 68, pastor of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church , off Maverick Square, who said he was attending his first anti-casino event.

Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMc­Cabe.

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