In a Chelsea neighborhood of steep hills and big dogs, a persistent woman in a Wynn Resorts baseball cap knocked on a dozen doors until she found that elusive election-season prize, an undecided voter.
“Have you thought about the jobs a casino would bring?” asked 66-year-old LouAnne Zawodny, referring to the Wynn casino plan for her hometown of Everett. Some of those jobs would go to Chelsea residents, she suggested to the voter, maybe to residents of this very neighborhood.
Not far away, in Charlestown, resident Dianne Ludy recently heard a very different take on the promises of the casino industry, and whether they could be trusted.
Canvasser Stephen Eisele, a spokesman for the Repeal the Casino Deal campaign, spoke to Ludy about the industry’s expansion into his home state of Missouri.
“They say, ‘Oh, this is going to solve education funding forever,’ ” he said. “My tuition went up every year I was in state school there.”
For underfunded casino opponents who cannot afford a massive advertising campaign, house-to-house canvassing for votes is a necessity. And even with a multimillion dollar TV budget, procasino canvassers have been knocking on doors and hustling for votes.
“The most effective election motivator is still personal contact,” said Jerold Duquette, associate professor of political science at Central Connecticut State University and a Western Massachusetts resident. “We give people credit for taking the time to show up and to talk to us.”
Elizabeth Fitzgerald, 26, addressed more than a dozen canvass volunteers at the campaign headquarters of Repeal the Casino Deal recently, to lay down the ground rules for door-to-door campaigning.
Find out where voters stand on Question 3, Fitzgerald told them, but don’t get into arguments.
“I had an 86-year-old woman try to push me down the stairs when we were talking about casinos,” she said. “It can get a little aggressive.”
The theme the anticasino canvassers took to the streets is that the gambling industry cannot be trusted.
“They come in with these beautiful drawings, promises of jobs . . . all these benefits,” said casino opponent Rob Pyles, who said his research into the industry convinced him that the promises just don’t come true.
Pyles, of East Boston, said casino proposals are “very seductive” and he was undecided about the gambling industry for a long time before becoming an opponent. Now, he’s a coordinator for Faith for Repeal, a coalition of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups fighting casinos here.
In 2011, state lawmakers legalized up to three resort casinos and one slot parlor in Massachusetts. Casino regulators have so far chosen three winning projects: a $1.6 billion Wynn Resorts proposal for the Mystic River waterfront, an $800 million MGM Resorts proposal for downtown Springfield, and a Plainville slot parlor project by Penn National Gaming. The final license, for Southeastern Massachusetts, is not due to be awarded until next year.
If passed, Question 3 would block all casino development in the state.
Both sides of the debate have tried to educate voters about the counterintuitive wording of the repeal question. A “yes” vote would block casinos; a “no” vote would allow casinos to open.
While Everett residents overwhelmingly supported the Wynn project in a referendum last year, residents of nearby Charlestown have raised concerns about casino traffic coming through Sullivan Square.
Peter Thompson of Charlestown complained to the canvassers that no one lives in the section of Everett where Wynn plans to build the casino, leaving Somerville and Charlestown residents to deal with its drawbacks.
Thompson said he favored repealing the casino law, though he is sympathetic to residents who approved casinos in other communities. “I have no problem with Plainville, Springfield; they should be able to get casinos. The fact that it’s all or nothing, it’s just not right.”
Canvassing against the repeal in Chelsea, Zawodny stuck to the overriding theme of the procasino campaign: jobs. Her backup argument is that the Wynn proposal would clean up a site that has been polluted for years.
“We see all the surrounding communities coming into their own,” Zawodny said, speaking as an Everett resident. “When this thing happened with Wynn, we said that it was finally our time. There is very little here. It gave people hope.”
Chelsea resident Paul Lydon, a 49-year-old pipefitter, told Zawodny that he supports casinos — and opposes repeal — for the sake of casino jobs. Maybe even a job for himself. “Having a second job is always good these days,” he said.
Down the street, Patricia Quatieri told Zawodny she was leaning against casinos in Massachusetts.
Zawodny asked her to consider the benefits of a project that would clean and redevelop the polluted Everett property: “No one has touched that piece of land down there for years.”
Quatieri said a few minutes later that she was “a little bit” persuaded to oppose the repeal, after speaking with Zawodny. “I didn’t know how bad [the land] was over there,” she said.
The dogged canvasser was on her way to the next house.