Grassroots Organization Wants to Stop the Casino

Brian Gannon, founder of No Eastie Casino, speaks before the Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association and pitches his case for why there shouldn’t be a casino at Suffolk Downs.

A new grassroots organization aimed at stopping a casino from coming to East Boston has been making some extreme claims in the neighborhood about the impacts a resort-style casino would have on Eastie if it came to Suffolk Downs.

The group, No Eastie Casino, founded by Eastie resident Brian Gannon, has launched a website, Facebook page and has begun voicing their concerns at community meetings in Eastie.

At a recent Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association (JPNA) Gannon said his group wants to simply prepare people with facts and arm residents with knowledge about what a casino means for the neighborhood.

“This is going to be a huge impact on the neighborhood and we are going to be hearing a lot of one sided stories from the casino and developers but we are not going to hear the other side of the story,” said Gannon at the JPNA meeting. “The other side has more money and more time but we have some major concerns because a casino and its impacts could irreversibly change the neighborhood.”

One of the more outrageous claims made by the opposition is that a resort-style casino at Suffolk Downs would add 20,000 to 40,000 vehicles to local roads daily and change traffic patterns that would cause bottlenecks, back-ups and delays—a number refuted by experts that have been studying casino impacts in the state.

Director of the Center of Policy Analysis at UMass Dartmouth, Professor Clyde Barrows, said that number of additional vehicular trips seems rather high.

“Let’s look at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun Casinos, the two largest casinos in the Western Hemisphere, generate 14 to 16 million visitors per year and only 20,000 car trips per day depending on the time of year, day of the week or whether or not it’s a holiday,” said Barrows in a phone interview Tuesday. “To get to 40,000 car trips per day, Suffolk Downs would have to build a casino twice as large as Foxwoods.”

A respected analyst, Barrow has knocked down claims of excessive car traffic that a proposed casino would cause for nearly two decades through UMass Dartmouth’s New England Gaming Research Project. Barrow conducted the first ever car count at Foxwoods during the Presidents’ Day holiday weekend in 1995.   Since then, he’s reviewed infinite data on visitations, car counts and spending and thinks a casino at Suffolk Downs, on the best day, may only see 8,000 to 10,000 car trips per day but no where near the 40,000 car trips being touted as fact by casino opponents.

“That number might increase to 12,000 to 15,000 during a holiday weekend but keep in mind that all of those car trips are not new traffic and a percentage is traffic that already exists on those roads,” said Barrow. “You have to take into account people stopping in to the casino on their way home.”

Barrow’s study has become well accepted in analytical circles and said sometimes pseudo-facts become facts once they are said in an open forum and then reported in newspapers.

“Sometimes they are based on no concrete evidence and are simply something somebody said once and then it’s re-circulated so many times it becomes fact,” said Barrow. “There’s no question traffic will increase but the numbers being put out there are inaccurate.”

Barrow said that in his experience the study of traffic in and around big developments helps to better mitigate those traffic patterns.

“There will most likely be a market feasibility analysis to see how many people might frequent a casino at Suffolk Downs, then there will be a traffic impact analysis and then they will work backwards from those numbers to map out a traffic plan to ensure that traffic flows smoothly.”

Barrow again pointed to Foxwoods as an example.

“There they created a flyover, like the one I’m hearing is being proposed for Suffolk Downs, on a two lane highway heading into one of the biggest casinos in the world and there is very little stop and go traffic,” said Barrow. “I’d venture to say that you would sit in more traffic on Route 3 on any given weekend going down to the Cape in the summertime.”

Barrow added that the problem with casino development is that people focus too much on the word casino.

“People should focus more on the word development because that what we are talking about…an economic development proposal,” said Barrow. “If anything else was to be developed at Suffolk Downs you’d be right back at the table talking about traffic or an increase in crime because any large scale development anywhere is going to bring about these issues and concerns.”

The only difference Barrow argues is that another development wouldn’t have the capital to mitigate the impacts being addressed in the media.

“Keep in mind that all these issues have to be resolved by a casino developer before they move forward,” said Barrow. “It’s mandated by the state legislation that the developers must enter into a host community agreement that would foot the bill for traffic improvements and increased security.”

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