By John Lynds and Seth Daniel
A new casino at Suffolk Downs would essentially come down to a vote of the people in Revere and East Boston if State Sen. Anthony Petruccelli (D-Eastie) had his way.
Petruccelli – who has long been skeptical of a casino here – came out publicly this week in favor of the casino as long as there are strict conditions that are attached to such casino legislation.
One of those conditions would be a vote of the local communities – up or down.
“I would require a host community referendum vote that would determine if it goes or not,” he said on Monday in a meeting with the Journal. “I’ve put a lot of thought into it and my position has evolved over time to support casinos. However, I don’t think the position I hold should be the final arbiter on what could be the most significant land use change in Revere and East Boston since the development of the airport in the 1960s.”
Petruccelli said he was an early supporter of Racinos several years ago when he was in the state House of Representatives. Over the last couple of years, though, he said he has moved from supporting that type of extended gaming and towards full support for a casino.
His stipulation for a vote of the people is a new twist in the saga that has unfolded over the last few weeks since House Speaker Bob DeLeo (D-Winthrop) unveiled portions of his upcoming extended gaming bill.
When casino gambling was discussed two years ago, Revere City Councillors Doug Goodwin and George Rotondo moved to put a referendum vote on the city election ballot concerning gaming. However, it was pulled at the last minute and never happened.
This time, Petruccelli would like to see it happen before anything happens.
“It’s too big of an issue and too sweeping of a change for me to make without the people having the final say,” he reiterated. “If it is what we think it can be, it will pass. They’re going to have to do it right and sell it to the people for it to pass…Plus, a referendum vote creates an opportunity for this to be vetted out publicly.”
Mayor Tom Ambrosino said he had no problem with a vote of the people, saying he didn’t think it would get in the way of potentially siting a casino at Suffolk.
“I think it would pass overwhelmingly in Revere and I don’t know if that would be a big issue,” he said. “If that’s what the Legislature wants to put into law, I would certainly be voting for [a casino] in any referendum vote.”
Likewise, City Councillor John Powers – who formerly chaired the Revere Gaming Task Force – said any vote would be welcomed.
“I don’t think it would hurt,” he said. “That’s the Democratic way. How do I feel about it? I think it would pass and I would support it. I think a majority of the people would.”
Noting its potential for job creation, infrastructure improvements and a solid way to shore up the state’s $250 million thoroughbred industry, Petruccelli said officially this week that he would support a plan to construct a resort-style casino at Suffolk Downs Racetrack.
For several years now Petruccelli had remained cautiously pessimistic and carefully researched the impacts other casinos have had on local economies in other parts of the country. He weighed the pros and cons, but kept his opinion close to his vest.
Then, a few months back, Petruccelli said he bumped into an old friend who had recently lost a good paying job with benefits from DHL. The husband and father of two explained to Petruccelli how the historic downturn in the state and federal economy had hit his family very hard.
“It was right there and then I made my decision,” said Petruccelli. “I have an inherited task in my capacity as an elected official to help people get jobs and secure work when I can. The story of my friend and the fact that I have a huge stack of resumes on my desk from out-of-work constituents tells me we have to do something very soon to create jobs.”
In the end, and after months of internal debate, Petruccelli said the benefits far outweigh the risks.
“Suffolk Downs ownership predicts they could create 2,500 permanent jobs in the opening months of a casino,” he said.
Approval is but
the first step in building a casino
So far in the discussion about a casino at Suffolk Downs, it has been portrayed that once gaming is approved, a casino would seemingly be built overnight.
However, there might be a few bugs to work out before that could happen.
One of the major concerns for local businesses in Revere is the liquor license at the potential casino.
A few years back, with great controversy, Revere rolled back its liquor license hours from 2 a.m. to 1 a.m. Meanwhile, in Boston, the liquor license still sits at 2 a.m.
The hitch is that any casino at Suffolk Downs – though half in Revere – would be licensed by Boston. That, local business owners have said, would put them at a real competitive disadvantage.
Vincent Giachetti owns the Esquire Club just a few paces away from Suffolk Downs. In past discussions, he and other bar owners in Revere have felt they would be run out of business due to the difference in licenses.
Some in the inner circles have even suggested that casino developers would probably want a 24-hour license for everything.
Needless to say, a casino would have some wrinkles to work out.
“You know where that’s all going and it’s a whole conversation that will have to happen,” said State Sen. Anthony Petruccelli.
Added Ward 5 Councillor John Powers, “I think that’s something we have to intelligently look at.”
Mayor Tom Ambrosino said it was something that he hasn’t even thought about yet, but said he believed the rollback was set in stone.
“I would be surprised if the License Commission would re-think the rollback under any circumstances,” he said. “It’s an interesting thought, but it’s low on the list of things to think about concerning a casino right now.”