The future of the casino gambling proposal at the Suffolk Downs thoroughbred racetrack looms large in the District 1 race for Boston City Council, where incumbent Councilor Salvatore LaMattina, of East Boston, has drawn challenges from two passionate anticasino candidates.
LaMattina, who was elected to the council in 2006, has been supportive of a proposal by Suffolk Downs and Caesars Entertainment to develop a resort, hotel, and spa at the 78-year-old racetrack, which would include Las Vegas-style slot machines and table games.
The developers have promised that the proposal, one of three in Greater Boston competing for a single resort casino license, would provide thousands of both construction and permanent jobs, as well as a minimum of $32 million annually in revenue to the city, with the potential for more.
“A casino could and will benefit my neighborhood,” LaMattina said during a council hearing Friday on the plans.
His rivals disagree.
One opponent, Brian Gannon, 40, of East Boston, cochairs No Eastie Casino, an opposition group trying to defeat the project at the ballot box.
Casino companies, he said, have the huge political advantage of deep pockets to pay for sophisticated campaigns, as well as great political influence.
“It leaves very little room for constituents to get clear information,” he said in an interview. “Sure, they can get the marketing pitch from the team Suffolk Downs has paid handsomely, but how do they hear the truth about some of the negative impacts and the potential things we could lose by putting a casino in Boston?”
Gannon said he attended city-run meetings on the Suffolk Downs plans, as well as developer-run meetings on the proposal — and couldn’t tell the difference.
“I got frustrated enough that I said we need to send a clear message that this is just an unacceptable way of being governed,” he said. “I don’t think the development in the city should be run by the developers with very little voice of the concerned citizens or the critical eye of some of our elected officials.”
LaMattina is also being challenged by John Ribeiro Jr., 73, a retired probation officer from East Boston, for whom opposition to casino gambling runs in the family.
Ribeiro’s daughter, Celeste Myers, is cochair — with Gannon — of the No Eastie Casino group. And, he said, his son, John, is chairman of the Repeal the Casino Deal Committee, a statewide effort to put a repeal of the state casino law on a statewide ballot.
Once approved, licensed, and built, a Suffolk Downs casino would be “an unkillable pig,” he said, “that’s going to impact our quality of life in such a negative way.”
“We’d lose more jobs than we’d be getting,” Ribeiro said in an interview. “All the mom-and-pop shops are going to be cannibalized. The casino is there to provide money for itself. It’s there to address our lower-base senses: greed, and wanting something for nothing. It stymies a person’s creativity.”
The district includes the neighborhoods of East Boston, Charlestown, and the North End.