REVERE — Dueling rallies over Mohegan Sun’s $1.3 billion casino proposed for Suffolk Downs drew hundreds of chanting opponents to Revere City Hall and cheering supporters to a VFW hall on Sunday.
The events, held just one hour apart, were planned to shape the outcome of Tuesday’s critical referendum on the Connecticut-based casino company’s proposal to develop a resort-style casino on the Revere side of the 160-acre property, which extends into East Boston.
Led by a Salvadoran band, about 200 casino opponents walked a half mile, from Immaculate Conception Church to City Hall. Their shouts of “No Casino!” brought some homeowners to their front doors to watch the marchers.
At City Hall, three church pastors joined local residents to denounce the project, warning that it could bring compulsive gambling, addiction, more crime, and other social problems to this working class city of about 53,000 people.
“We do not need or want a casino,” Linda Aufiero, who said she has lived in Revere for 66 years, told the crowd. “I believe gambling and alcohol go hand in hand — addiction.”
Karin Esturban, 33, said she hoped Revere’s mayor, Daniel Rizzo, perhaps the project’s most vocal supporter, would hear their concerns.
“We’re asking the mayor not to get deceived. There’s another side of Revere that says ‘No,’ ” she said. “And he is the mayor. He’s supposed to listen to both parties, not just one.”
But just over an hour later, Rizzo stood in a VFW hall packed with supporters, urging them to reject opponents’ concerns.“Do not buy into the information that’s been put out there by the opposition,” Rizzo said to applause. “It’s based on lies and conjecture. We have been telling the truth since the very beginning.”
A host community agreement between Mohegan Sun and Revere calls for the casino company to make a one-time $33 million payment to the city, plus annual payments of $25 million to $30 million.
The agreement also would give hiring preference to Revere residents for the estimated 2,500 temporary construction jobs and 4,000 permanent jobs that would come if the project wins approval.
Mohegan Sun is vying against Wynn Resorts of Las Vegas for the sole Greater Boston license. The Revere Beach-themed development would include two hotels, upscale restaurants and shops, and a 24-hour casino. “We have a chance, on Tuesday, to get out and stand up for all of us here in this room, and all of us across the city,” Rizzo said.
The vote will mark the second time Revere has held a referendum on a casino at Suffolk Downs, New England’s last thoroughbred racetrack.
In November, a referendum to build the casino in East Boston was approved by nearly 60 percent of Revere voters. But East Boston voters soundly rejected the measure.
Suffolk Downs then teamed up with Mohegan Sun — which earlier last year had lost a community referendum in the central Massachusetts town of Palmer — to propose a new project for the Revere-only side of the racetrack.
The state gambling commission last month ordered Revere to hold a new referendum.
“We’ve been getting our message out there about how important this is for Revere,” said Mitchell Etess, chief executive officer of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, during an interview just before the rally started.
Etess, who spoke at the rally, said he spent time before the event knocking on doors, urging support for the casino.
“We’re focused on getting out the vote. We believe that’s the most important thing we can do now.”
The gathering had the feel of an old-time political rally. Some supporters wore red-and-white T-shirts reading, “It’s about Revere!” Others held signs with names of city neighborhoods.
They ate such classic Revere Beach fare as clam chowder and finger lobster rolls from Kelly’s Roast Beef, a landmark on the crescent-shaped beach.
“It’s about jobs,” said Morris D. Morris, 85, as he waited in line at a crowded buffet. “People around here could use the money. We need to get people working here.”
Matilda Bonfardeci, 45, a mother of two school-age children, said the prospect of a casino promises millions of dollars for the public schools. “To me that’s a really big thing, the fact that we’ll have money to be used for the school system,” said Bonfardeci, who stood with her daughter, Marcella, 7.
But some opponents said the economic benefits do not outweigh the social costs associated with casinos.
Yeiman Martinez, 28, of Revere, said he did not want to see a casino bring more drugs to the area.
“Many people would come — drug people,” Martinez said. “We don’t want those people getting around the city.”
Aufiero recalled how her father gambled at the now-closed Wonderland dog track in Revere when she was a child. She now fears that casual gamblers could become addicted.
“It happens so quickly,” she said in an interview after the rally. “You think, ‘I’m just [going to] go down and spend a few dollars.’ And then maybe a few days later you go again. And before you know it, the money’s gone.”Kathy McCabe
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