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opinion | state senator Anthony Petruccelli

Suffolk Downs vote belongs in East Boston

When the Legislature crafted and passed the Expanded Gaming Act in 2011, setting the stage for the development of destination resort casinos in the Commonwealth, my colleagues in the Legislature did an outstanding job of recognizing the importance of local control over a gaming development. A key component of the gaming law, which I supported, restricted local ballot questions in the state’s largest cities to the ward in which a gaming development would occur. By including the ward-only provision, the Legislature wisely ensured that residents of the areas potentially most affected by these mammoth projects would have a greater say in its development.

As such, residents of my neighborhood, East Boston, will soon vote on the $1 billion casino project proposed at the 161-acre complex at Suffolk Downs. Mayor Tom Menino and his team did a commendable job with a thorough host community agreement, which appropriately balances the interests of the City of Boston with those of East Boston.

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Recently though, some Boston mayoral candidates have argued against an East Boston, ward-only vote, citing polls that ask Bostonians whether they would prefer a citywide vote. This is a flawed position.

A local vote on this project is one issue on which both casino supporters and opponents in East Boston agree. East Boston is a community that already boasts a long history of development projects in its backyard — from an airport and additional runways to tunnels. Geographically separated from the rest of the city by the Mystic River, Boston Harbor, and three tunnels, the impact of the proposed gaming development at Suffolk Downs will predominantly be felt by East Boston and its residents.

Those who call for a citywide vote miss the inherent lack of fairness at the prospect that East Boston could be mandated to accept the development, whether its residents want it or not. Indeed many residents of Hyde Park, Brighton, and West Roxbury may look to Suffolk Downs, miles from their homes, and welcome the improvements additional revenue would bring to their schools, parks, and roadways. But East Boston, more so than any other Boston community, must live with and mitigate any potential negative impacts from the casino.

Thus, a better question for pollsters to ask would be, “If the casino development would have a disproportionate impact on your neighborhood, would you want the entire city to determine its fate?”

I happen to support the proposed development at Suffolk Downs. The track’s owners and management team have been open and inclusive with the local community over the last several years, listening and responding to neighborhood concerns about traffic, jobs, public safety, and effects on local businesses. Not surprisingly, poll after poll shows strong support across the entire city for the Suffolk Downs project.

Would you want the entire city to determine the fate of your neighborhood?

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I have a strong suspicion that most Bostonians would like to have a vote on the competing Everett casino project, the next pope, and even the next manager of the Red Sox (notwithstanding the great job John Farrell is doing). But overriding East Boston’s right to weigh the impacts and benefits of a local development would set a dangerous precedent for every neighborhood in the city of Boston.

Anthony Petruccelli is a state senator from the First Suffolk and Middlesex District, which includes Boston, Cambridge, Revere, and Winthrop.
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