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Casino foes rally against Suffolk Downs plan

Activists oppose possible new operator, postponement of vote on East Boston project

Ezekiel Jaidan of Lynn held his daughter, Ezelyn, 3, at an anticasino rally Sunday outside Most Holy Redeemer Parish in East Boston.

JESSICA RINALDI FOR THE GLOBE

Ezekiel Jaidan of Lynn held his daughter, Ezelyn, 3, at an anticasino rally Sunday outside Most Holy Redeemer Parish in East Boston.

Emboldened by the abrupt pullout Friday of Caesars Entertainment from a proposal to build a $1 billion resort-style casino at Suffolk Downs, anticasino activists took to East Boston streets Sunday to rally against the plan.

“It shows you there’s something sinister . . . about this whole process,” organizer Pedro Morales, 40, said of Caesars’ decision. “It’s not opinion. There’s evidence now, clear evidence, that this deal had something unsavory about it.”

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The international casino giant withdrew late Friday, after state investigators recommended Caesars be disqualified from participating in the competition for the Greater Boston resort casino license.

Suffolk Downs reiterated Sunday it will seek a new casino operator and push ahead with its application.

Casino opponents from neighborhood groups Friends of East Boston and No Eastie Casino packed Maverick Street outside Most Holy Redeemer Parish Sunday to hear leaders from Catholic, Protestant, and Evangelical churches, as well as a Muslim imam, speak against the proposal.

Don Nanstad, pastor at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, was one of several who quoted from religious texts as he addressed about 200 people at the rally.

“Beware of false prophets that come dressed in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves,” Nanstad said.

JESSICA RINALDI FOR THE GLOBE

Casino opponents say the vote on the casino project should remain on the same day as mayoral and city council elections to encourage voter turnout.

Casino foes said they oppose efforts by Mayor Thomas M. Menino to postpone the Nov. 5 East Boston vote on the project, if racetrack operators cannot replace Caesars quickly. They said the vote should remain on the same day as mayoral and city council elections to encourage voter turnout.

“I want more people to get more information and more people to vote,” said Jesse Purvis, 31, a three-year resident of East Boston’s Jeffries Point section.

George Kougeas, a resident the Eagle Hill section since 1995, said the loss of Caesars was good news for casino opponents trying to warn their neighbors of the problems they fear would accompany the casino, such as increased crime, traffic, and gambling addiction.

“I find it hard to believe any of the other partners would be substantially different,” Kougeas, 61, said.

Caesars withdrew its participation in the casino plan after running afoul of the extensive background checks the state gaming law requires.

State investigators raised red flags over Caesars’ soaring debt, its association with a hotelier reputed to have mob ties, and a wealthy high-roller’s claims that his $100 million-plus loss at two Caesars casinos was fueled by alcohol and painkillers the casinos provided, according to people familiar with the report, which has not been released publicly.

Chip Tuttle, the racetrack’s chief operating officer, said by phone Sunday that Caesars’ ouster would not affect the substance of the casino plan.

“Our proposal to build a world-class resort at the racetrack that creates 4,000 jobs and lots of opportunities for local business and makes substantial improvements to local roads is the same today as it was last week,” he said. “Suffolk Downs has always been the entity seeking the license.”

Tuttle said that, if anything, the racetrack’s efforts to get its message out to the community had been bolstered by Friday’s news.

“One of the great things about East Boston . . . is we probably had more support Saturday in the community, after this news, than at any other time in the campaign,” Tuttle said. “We had 250 people knocking on doors, holding signs, calling voters.”

Casino supporter Felix Bezeredy, 60, watched the anticasino rally from Lombardi Memorial Park across the street from the church. Bezeredy said he disapproved of religious leaders, whose houses of worship are tax-exempt, getting involved in politics.

“I know that my Lord, if he was here today, he would say, ‘Shame on you,’ ” said Bezeredy, who said he was raised Catholic but later joined the Pentecostal Church. “I think that the church should stay out of it unless the church wants to pay taxes.”

Other neighborhood residents were more receptive to the anticasino message, even if they required a little persuasion. As they walked through Jeffries Point, knocking on voters’ doors, casino opponents Tanya Hahnel, 30, and Michael Jacob, 37, encountered a neighbor who initially said she supported the casino.

“I’m all for gambling,” said the woman leaning out a Sumner Street window, who declined to give her name but said she was a lifelong East Boston resident and the granddaughter of Italian immigrants. “My mother was a bookie. All their lives, they made money booking from the house, the women.”

After a brief conversation with Hahnel and Jacob about detrimental changes they believe the casino could bring to the neighborhood, she changed her mind.

“We really don’t need it,” she said. “There’d be a lot more crime. There’d be everything you don’t want, and it would just gravitate to that place.”

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.
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