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Adrian Walker

Suffolk Downs casino project has become a mess

Celeste Ribeiro Myers has been fighting an underdog battle against a proposed Suffolk Downs casino for ages. All of a sudden, her luck may have turned.

The source of her renewed hope for defeating the East Boston casino project is the elimination of Caesars Entertainment as its operator. Caesars was bounced over the weekend amid concerns that it would not pass a state-mandated background check. Caesars has a licensing deal with a company that has been linked to Russian mobsters.

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Imagine, a huge casino company with possible ties to unsavory characters. Who could have imagined such a thing?

“This shines a glaring light on the lack of transparency,” said Myers, cochairwoman of No Eastie Casino, a group whose mission is self-explanatory. “It shows that Suffolk Downs is simply not capable of selecting a suitable partner. Now we’re supposed to vote on this blindly.”

Ah, yes, that vote. In less than two weeks, East Boston residents are to vote on the casino proposal. Now they won’t even know what exactly they are voting for.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino briefly called for a delay of the vote, but that isn’t happening.

Secretary of State William Galvin, in pledging that the vote will go forward, noted that the ballots have been printed and that some of them have probably already been cast by absentee voters. The vote will go on, though few would attempt to predict the outcome.

For people like me, who have become convinced that the casino is a dicey proposition, this is not necessarily bad news. The casino project has been sold, quite literally, as a jobs program with too little scrutiny of its long-term effects.

The agreement that would provide a $54 million annual windfall to the city, much of it earmarked for East Boston, is clearly based on wildly optimistic projections.

And approaching the eve of the vote, the operating team is still being assembled. What a mess.

Of course, the Suffolk Downs honchos are scrambling to salvage the situation. Two other companies are reportedly jockeying to replace Caesar’s as the operator. Both potential new suitors, Hard Rock and Rush Street, are former casino applicants that would likely sail over the hurdles that tripped up Caesar’s.

Still, by any standard, time is running short, even if a deal can be hammered out.

The problems at Suffolk Downs are bad news for the casino’s most powerful advocate, Menino. He played a huge role in assembling the group and hammering out the agreement meant to sell it to voters. He advocated for the provision in the state legislation that called for a neighborhood-only vote, all the easier to pass it.

And now, with fewer than three months left in office, Menino finds his last major dream could well be slipping away.

Menino’s frustration seemed evident while speaking about the project in Lowell the other night.

“Tell me what other thing will create 4,000 jobs?” Menino said. “The 4,000 jobs will go to working people. That’s what’s important.”

But it’s also important to have trust in the entity that will operate the casino. It’s important to gauge the impact on East Boston, and on the city as a whole. It’s important to know that the promises of permanent jobs and public works improvements and the promised windfall can actually materialize.

Undeniably, all of those considerations are up in the air now.

And perhaps the most gripping spectacle is Menino’s inability to influence the final outcome. For the first time in years, he finds himself sidelined during a major public policy event in what he likes to refer to as “my city.”

The lame-duck period has begun, and he knows as well as anyone that there is no turning back. That is a more shocking event than any casino outcome could be.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.
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