Casino opponents in East Boston were hoping for a victory on Tuesday, and bracing themselves for what they thought was a likely loss. Instead, they quickly found out that they were facing a landslide – but one in their favor.
Voters in East Boston rejected a proposed casino at the Suffolk Downs race track, ending what had been a remarkably contentious battle over the potential gambling venue. According to the unofficial results, 56 percent of East Boston voters came out against the casino, with just 44 percent supporting it. That came as a surprise – if not a total shock – to many of the casino’s biggest opponents.
“We’re completely elated and blown away by the loud resounding ‘no’ the folks of East Boston gave to the casino developers,” said Celeste Myers, co-chairwoman for No Eastie Casino. “I came into the day bracing myself and talking myself into being content with a modest loss…I had no reason to expect that we would realize a win, much less a win of this nature.”
It’s possible that the turning point in the race came when Suffolk Downs dropped Caesars Entertainment as a partner on the casino project after the Massachusetts Gaming Commission expressed concerns over the company’s involvement. Soon after that occurred, anti-casino groups claimed that their internal polling showed a sharp rise in the number of undecided voters, and that the race itself was about even.
Suffolk Downs said that their polling showed better numbers, and that they would be able to persuade undecideds by reminding them of the potential benefits the casino could bring to the community. But the results would suggest that those undecideds largely turned into “no” votes, ultimately dooming the project.
Could Move Project to Revere
According to Suffolk Downs COO Chip Tuttle, the track will now reassess their plans. One possibility could be building a casino in the neighboring town of Revere. Suffolk Downs’ proposed casino would straddle the East Boston/Revere line, and both communities were required to vote “yes” on the project for the bid to proceed. While East Boston rejected the plan, Revere easily approved the casino, with 61 percent of voters coming out in support of the plan. However, it’s not certain that the state gaming commission would support changing the casino to a site fully in Revere.
Even if the vote had gone Suffolk Downs’ way, that was no guarantee that the casino would have been built. The track was bidding for one of three casino licenses that were created by gambling legislation passed by the state in 2011. Each proposal must first be approved by the community or communities hosting it, and then must be chosen over any other successful proposals in the same region for the sole license in that part of the state.
The Suffolk Downs proposal wasn’t the only casino vote in Massachusetts. In the Western Massachusetts town of Palmer – located about halfway between Springfield and Worcester – a vote on whether to approve a Mohegan Sun casino project ended in a narrow defeat. Out of over 5,200 votes, the proposal was defeated by only 93 votes – a margin so narrow that Mohegan Sun is likely to request a recount.
While the casino company may ask for a recount of all votes, they are particularly interested in one specific precinct where a voting machine reportedly jammed in the afternoon, causing some ballots to fall to the floor.
“Because of technical problems with the voting machine in Precinct 2 that are very troubling, we will be asking the Town of Palmer for a hand recount of the ballots in today’s election,” said Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority chief executive Mitchell Etess.
At least Caesars’ Gary Loveman must have enjoyed a celebratory cocktail upon hearing the voting results, with a little bit of a smirk, given his dis by the Massachusetts gaming commission recently.