The casino bill: Citywide vote should be held

It’s now very clear that resort-style casino gambling will be setting up shop in Massachusetts in the not-so-distant future. The House of Representatives easily passed a measure last week that will allow for up to three such casinos across the Commonwealth, along with a slot parlor. The State Senate is also likely to approve a similar bill next week, although the final version will likely take a slightly different form. Governor Patrick has pledged to support the legislation.

One aspect of the House bill that absolutely needs to be changed is a provision that would limit the rights of citizens in larger municipalities— like Boston— to have a voice in whether or not a casino is sited in their community. As it stands now, the bill would permit only voters of the ward of a city in closest proximity to a proposed casino to go to the polls to approve or shoot down the idea. In the case of Boston, with all signs pointing towards a likely site in East Boston on the current Suffolk Downs property, that would mean that only East Boston voters would be asked to make the decision about siting a casino in the city.

State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz has filed an amendment to the Senate version of the casino bill that would require that all of the voters of a municipality will have a say. In the case of a Boston proposal, that would give us a chance to have a voice in whether our city welcomes a casino or not.

Chang-Diaz told the Reporter this week, “These consequences will affect all municipal residents, not just those within a few blocks’ radius of the casino. It’s only fair that all affected residents have an equal say in whether or not the positive impacts of a casino outweigh the economic and social costs to their cities.”

The senator has got it right. All Boston residents deserve a right to have a say in whether or not resort-style gambling sets up shop in our backyard.

Decades ago, when the owners of the New England Patriots were seeking a new home for their still-fledging football club, the team scoped out a large parcel of land on the banks of the Neponset River, right here in Dorchester, on what was then a landfill and site of a drive-in theater. The proposal was a serious one and sparked much opposition locally, to the point that the franchise looked elsewhere and found a more suitable location (also on the banks of the Neponset) in Foxborough. Today, that initial site in Dorchester is home to the 72-acre Pope John Paul II Park, a popular destination, but hardly on the scale of Gillette Stadium or Patriot Place.

Would it have made sense to ask just the people in Neponset’s Ward 16 if they wanted a football stadium built in their backyard? Of course not. Such a project would have impacted communities throughout the city and beyond. The same is true of this emerging casino proposal.

For better or worse, this new industry will have citywide implications and all of us should get a chance to weigh in at the ballot box. We hope that the Legislature and the governor will do the right thing and change the current bill to ensure that we get that chance in the coming years.

– Bill Forry


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