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Editorial

City Council should opt now to allow citywide casino vote

MAYOR MENINO wants a resort casino at Suffolk Downs. Powerful members of the state Legislature want one, too. But before a proposal is put on the table, and political muscle starts being exerted, the Boston City Council should vote now to ensure that all voters have a say on a critical issue for the city’s future.

The blueprints being drawn up by Suffolk Downs and the casino company Caesars Entertainment Corp. call for a hotel and casino at the East Boston track, which has been hurt by the long-term decline of horse racing. The track’s owners and their supporters played a major role lobbying for the state gambling law that Governor Patrick signed last month, amid hopes that a casino can turn around its fortunes.

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While building a casino would provide jobs, it would also place new burdens on the city’s roads and transit system, add to police costs, and potentially undermine city government by introducing a sharp-elbowed industry known for getting its way.

Voters across the Commonwealth should look closely at any and all casino proposals, and take seriously their responsibility to weigh the economic benefits against the burdens. And in Boston, as in other cities and towns, all voters should have some say before the city heads down that path.

Under the casino law, almost every town or city in Massachusetts automatically gets a vote, which is why Foxborough residents will have a chance to weigh in on the casino plans developing there. But in Boston, only the ward in which a casino wants to do business gets a vote - unless the City Council opts out of that restriction and allows a citywide referendum. The vote itself can only be called when there’s a specific proposal to put before voters, but there seems to be no reason why the council couldn’t move immediately to opt out of the ward restriction, making it clear from the outset that when a Suffolk Downs proposal materializes, it will have to go before all the voters.

It’s far better for the council to make this commitment early on, before the issue becomes politicized and councilors come under pressure from backers and detractors. A vote today would be for an open process, not for or against any proposal. It would also serve to remove, mercifully, another layer of politicking when the proposal finally emerges.

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