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Casino vote should be Nov. 5, and all should have a say

Mayor Menino hates the idea of letting the whole city vote on the proposed casino at the Suffolk Downs racetrack in East Boston. An ardent casino booster, Menino has done everything he can to clear away obstacles. He wants to confine the vote to just East Boston, where casino developers have poured money into a marketing blitz to soften up the electorate, and where the plan is thought more likely to win approval.

But according to the state Gaming Commission, that’s not Menino’s decision to make: Under the state’s gambling law, whether to allow the entire city to participate in the approval referendum is determined “by a vote of the local governing body.” If the Boston City Council orders a citywide referendum, Menino can’t veto its decision.

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That leaves Boston’s 13 city councilors, who normally have only limited input into city governance, in an unusually powerful position. Although councilors have shied away from going against the mayor’s wishes on Suffolk Downs, they should opt for a vote that allows all Boston voters to weigh in on the casino — and takes place on the same day as the mayoral election to maximize turnout.

Under state law, after a casino plan is formally submitted, an approval vote must be held within 60 to 90 days. In the case of Suffolk Downs, that window stretches from late October to late November, a timespan that conveniently includes Election Day, Nov. 5. The practical arguments for holding the referendum the same day speak for themselves: Bostonians will be going to the polls anyway, so combining the two will save them time and hassle.

It would also invariably mean higher turnout, which would lend the casino results more legitimacy — which is also a key reason the council should open the referendum to the entire city. The economic benefits and social burdens of a casino would stretch across the harbor, and the whole city needs to be consulted. Doing so would bring Boston into line with Springfield and Everett, where the whole electorate was included in casino votes, and Revere, whose entire population will get a chance to vote on Suffolk Downs.

The only thing holding the council back appears to be fear of running afoul of Menino. But Menino won’t be mayor after January. The five councilors running to replace him — Mike Ross, John R. Connolly, Felix G. Arroyo, Rob Consalvo, and Charles Yancey — ought to be leading the charge for the broadest vote possible. If they want the entire city to vote for them, the least they can do is ensure the entire city gets to vote on the casino.

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