EAST BOSTON — One month before voters in East Boston and Revere will vote on a referendum to decide if a $1 billion resort casino should be built at Suffolk Downs, the racetrack and Caesars Entertainment hosted a forum Thursday about job opportunities that could await local residents.
About 1,000 people noshed on curried coconut chicken skewers, veggie dumplings, Italian cookies, and cannolis at the East Boston track as executives promoted the potential for 4,000 permanent jobs and other economic benefits that would be created if they prevail in the state’s high-stakes resort casino sweepstakes.
“This is a transformational project for the property,” said Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer at Suffolk Downs, the last thoroughbred racing facility in New England, which straddles the East Boston-Revere line.
He urged residents — many of whom sported stickers reading, “It’s about jobs” or “Vote Yes” that were handed to them as they entered the track clubhouse — to support the local referendum, a key requirement of the state’s gambling law.
“If you are supportive of our development efforts . . . please remember to vote on Nov. 5,” Tuttle said.
‘I like it that there are a lot of different types of jobs, the hotels, the restaurants.’Francine Leone, East Boston resident
The pitch may have worked on Janice Fantasia, 61, of East Boston. “I am really concerned about the traffic, but now, because for the jobs, I’m leaning toward voting yes,” said Fantasia, who left her job as a teacher in a child-care center in May.
The Nov. 5 referendum is crucial for Suffolk Downs's bid for the one resort casino license available for Greater Boston. The state’s gambling law requires that a referendum be held to allow residents to decide whether they want a casino in their community.
Approval is required for the application to advance before the state gambling commission. The other two competitors are $1 billion resort casinos proposed for Everett by Las Vegas casino developer Steve Wynn and for Milford by Foxwoods Massachusetts. Final applications are due by Dec. 31. The commission is expected to award the license in April.
Job creation and hiring preferences for residents are key components of host community agreements Suffolk Downs negotiated with Boston and Revere. The project is expected to generate 2,500 construction jobs and 4,000 permanent jobs, with job fairs to be held later for residents of each city, according to the agreements.
In an interview, John Payne, president of Central Markets and Partnership Development for Caesars, said the average full-time job would pay $42,000.
Thursday’s gathering, which included an afternoon and evening session, gave a first glimpse of the potential new jobs, from chefs and cooks to plumbers and electricians to finance and marketing posts.
“This business is not just about slot machines and table games,” said Payne. “It’s about the people who work in our buildings. “
Six employees from resorts operated by Caesars in Cleveland, Cincinnati, New Orleans, and Las Vegas talked to the crowd about careers started as hotel greeters, security guards, and spa receptionists that grew into managerial positions.
“It’s been a great ride,” said Stephanie Sheikh, director of casino services at Horseshoe Cincinnatti.
Their stories raised the hope of local residents.
“I’m really here looking out for my two boys, who need jobs,” said Francine Leone, 50, of East Boston, who attended the forum with sons, John, 20, who is unemployed, and Michael, 17, a high school senior. “I like it that there are a lot of different types of jobs, the hotels, the restaurants.”
Rocco Sciaraffa, 57, a supermarket clerk from Revere, said he was intrigued by the opportunity to work in a hotel. “I want a job where I can work with the public,” said Sciaraffa, a native of Italy who said he also worked as a hairdresser. “I do that now, but I think this [casino] would have more possibilities for me.”
Stephanie Rizzuto, 39, a Transportation Security Administration worker from Medford who said she is working unpaid shifts because of the federal shutdown, is interested in working either in security or at a gambling table. “Either one of them would be good,” said Rizzuto, who attended with three other furloughed workers. “I don’t gamble, but I’ve been to casinos. I think they’d be good jobs.”
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