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Derrick Z. Jackson

Lady Luck calls on Suffolk Downs

A Suffolk Downs employee took a photo of a rendering of the proposed East Boston casino.

file 2012/David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

A Suffolk Downs employee took a photo of a rendering of the proposed East Boston casino.

Watch your head. The roulette wheel of casino promises is flying clean off the table, aiming for any gullible fool. Gaming proponents project annual gambling revenues of $1 billion at a Caesars casino at Suffolk Downs. But they are selling us $1 billion of lady luck, industry experts say, a bet that the city will lose.

‘‘Not happening,” Saverio Scheri, CEO of WhiteSand Gaming, told the Globe’s Mark Arsenault.

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David G. Schwartz, director of the University of Nevada Las Vegas Center for Gaming Research, told me in a phone interview that he couldn’t “get close to a billion as much as I can try. It would be a mistake for the city or the state to rely on such optimistic estimates.”

Boston and Revere, the casino’s host communities, would net $52 million and $15 million a year, respectively, under the $1 billion scenario.

East Boston should think hard about these promises when it votes Nov. 5 on the proposed casino. Are the promises worth the traffic and possible crime? Is a casino worth forever precluding other kinds of development that make for more stable and thriving neighborhoods such as innovation districts?

I think the spread of casinos is a sad statement on our society, but if people want one, so be it. Still, something is wrong when voters are being chumped with astronomical figures.

Schwartz said revenues may be more like $600 million to $700 million, based on the 4,000-to-5,000 slot machines planned for Suffolk Downs compared to other slot operations in the Northeast. For instance, the 5,000-slot Resorts World’s casino in New York had $700 million of revenues last fiscal year, with each slot machine averaging $382 a day.

To get to $1 billion, slots at Suffolk Downs would need to earn between $400 and $500 a day. By comparison, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun average about $275 a day per slot machine and have been in steady decline from the recession and new competition from New York and Rhode Island. Analysis by Ernst and Young says that the Suffolk Downs casino would be smaller than Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun and that revenues would “likely fall below” those two.

Yet the promises continue. Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo says the “transformational” casino would cut the town’s unemployment rate in half. In a Globe Letter to the Editor this week, Suffolk Downs CEO Chip Tuttle defended the casino agreement as “good for Boston,” with thousands of jobs and tens of millions of dollars spent on goods and services.

Maybe. Perhaps a Boston-area casino, whether at Suffolk Downs or in Everett at the site proposed by Wynn Resorts, will unlock pent-up demand and siphon millions of gaming dollars from Connecticut. But Brookings senior fellow Allan Malach, who analyzed the impacts of casino gambling for the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia as that city prepared to open its first casino, said the projections of casino riches usually do not consider several factors.

Rarely considered is whether casino jobs pay enough to raise an area’s overall standard of living or whether money spent in casinos cannibalize other forms of entertainment. “Sure, Boston is a major convention city, and that may be a reason people push a casino,” Malach told me. “But if you have a national convention of podiatrists, and they go gamble instead of taking in a show or a Red Sox game, it’s a wash for the larger economy.”

East Boston should consider this when voting to accept or reject a casino. At best, the casino will be a wash. At worst, East Boston will be taken to the cleaners.

Derrick Z. Jackson can be reached at jackson@globe.com.
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