Both Suffolk Downs’ COO Chip Tuttle and members of No Eastie Casino have been on the community meeting circuit ahead of the Host Community Agreement vote scheduled for November 5.
While Suffolk Downs had a setback Friday after dropping Caesars as its casino operator, Tuttle has been briefing residents on the key aspects of the Host Community Agreement with the City of Boston while No Eastie Casino has been trying to punch holes in the document.
Tuttle and No Eastie Casino appeared at two well-attended meetings at the Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association on October 15 and the Orient Heights Neighborhood Council on Monday.
Both meetings had a good mix of Eastie residents both for and against a casino proposal at the famed racetrack and despite some outbursts both meeting by in large were civil and respectful of each opinion.
No Eastie Casino has been arguing that the Host Community Agreement lacked transparency during the process and parties involved with the proposed casino, including a lack of easily accessible information and/or translated versions of the agreement for lay audiences and non-English speakers.
Tuttle has argued at both meeting that Suffolk Downs have attended countless community meetings and hosted open houses regarding the proposal and praised the city’s Host Community Advisory Committee for its work.
At Monday OHNC meeting Mary Berninger argued that it was disingenuous on the part of No Eastie Casino to say the process lacked transparency. Berninger aid the she, and a lot of neighbors and activists, took an active role and educating themselves about the process and kept a watchful eye as it moved forward. She said she was ‘not surprised’ by a lot of the items in the Host Community Agreement because they were items that were discussed at several meeting with the city’s advisory committee.
At the two meetings. No Eastie Casino also handed out their outline of the group’s findings regarding the agreement. In it No Eastie Casino argues any boost to the local economy from increased jobs will be offset by losses in small business revenue in East Boston’s business districts.
At both meetings Tuttle said that Suffolk Downs plans to spend $5 million per year on goods and services from local business or face stiff daily penalties. Tuttle also said that while Caesars is no longer a gaming partner the racetrack ownership will continue a rewards program where members can use casino points at local restaurants and shops—a business model that Tuttle said has worked well elsewhere.
At both meetings No Eastie Casino argued that the agreement lacks guarantees and critical details about the scope of the casino, number of jobs, construction impacts on local roads, and more.
Tuttle said the proposal has not changed since it was unveiled over two years ago; the number of construction jobs remains the same, as does the number of jobs.
At both JPNA and OHNC, those with concerns over the jobs argued that the jobs would be mostly part time work that does not pay much.
Tuttle said at OHNC that he would not apologize if he is able to give someone in Eastie making $8 an hour with no benefits a job at the casino for $11 per hour with benefits. He also stated that in other urban casino locations the split between full time and part time work was in the range of 70% to 30% or as high as 90% to 10% but the market usually dictated the type of part time and full time work that was needed.
While No Eastie Casino said that little attention is paid to the family and social costs of increased addiction, crime, and other costs to public health in a neighborhood already disproportionately burdened, Tuttle said that the burden is lack of funding.
At JPNA Tuttle said under the gaming law a percentage of casino revenue has to be spent on addiction and public health issues that may arise from expanded gaming in the state. Tuttle said right now the state deals with the addiction being in such close proximity to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun but does not have the funds or resources to combat the problem. As part of the legislation, if Suffolk Downs is awarded a gaming license it would have to partner with local mental health organization like North Suffolk Mental Health to ensure funds are adequate and programs are in place to combat gambling addiction and other issues.