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Why East Boston Will Get the Casino

We told you right before Christmas that the proposed casino at Suffolk Downs in East Boston and the development—finally!—of something at the old Filene's site in Downtown Crossing might, in fact, be connected. See, the company that created the hole, Vornado Realty Trust of New Jersey, also owns a 20 percent stake in Suffolk Downs. The theory goes that if the Menino administration would tie any casino franchise at the racetrack to development at the hole.

Would that were so. At least according to Paul McMorrow of CommonWealth magazine in a Globe op-ed today. He's a touch cynical about the whole affair, even given the new gambling committee that the City Council set up:

The Menino administration, which almost always gets it way over the council, seems determined to place a casino at Suffolk Downs and allow only its East Boston neighbors to have a say on it. That means the new council committee will have no real leverage with which to threaten Vornado Realty Trust, the firm that is both the creator the Filene’s pit downtown and a 20 percent owner of Suffolk Downs. But!

[I]f it really wanted to, the new committee could create genuine pressure on Vornado, and truly hold the developer accountable for blowing a crater in Boston’s downtown shopping district three years ago. It’s as easy as subjecting Vornado’s East Boston casino proposal to a citywide referendum.

That won't happen, McMorrow contends, because the mayor has the council in his pockets, like so many nickels and dimes. And while Hizzoner has railed against Vornado for more than three years over the hole in Downtown Crossing, he wants the casino in East Boston. So don't expect the citywide vote on a Suffolk Downs casino that McMorrow and others want.

The state’s recently enacted casino law requires local approval of any gambling facility, but legislative supporters of a casino at Suffolk Downs exempted Boston from automatically having to hold a citywide vote, instead allowing the City Council to call for a referendum if it so chooses. ... This means limiting democracy to East Boston, where the vote’s outcome can most easily be controlled. For Menino and the council, the purpose of dodging a citywide vote is setting up a slam-dunk local approval. But if local approvals are already in the bag, Menino and the City Council don’t have any real sticks to threaten Vornado with.

Look for the Filene's hole to remain, then. And the Suffolk Downs casino to arrive. What will the techies think?

· Use Casino Leverage to Fix Filene’s Site [Globe]
· Downtown Crossing's Filene's Site, East Boston Casino: Tied? [Curbed Boston]
· South Boston Techies Will Rescue East Boston Real Estate [Curbed Boston]

Suffolk Downs

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