The Environment Should Be a Factor in Siting a Casino in Eastern Mass.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

It's still early in the race to license three casinos in Massachusetts, but Suffolk Downs in East Boston seems to have the momentum needed to gain the one big prize available in the eastern part of the state. It holds the favored position despite the glaring downsides to a casino in that spot.

Let us count some of the ways that the old racetrack on the Boston-Revere line doesn't fit the bill for a large, resort-style casino:

One, it's out of the way and hard to get to. From downtown Boston, you have to drive there on Route C-1 or take the MBTA's Blue Line. Thanks to the role C-1 plays in servicing Logan Airport, traffic is already backed up in that area for hours on many days. It can only get worse when thousands of gamblers enter the mix, every day and night.

Two, it has no synergy with the convention center, the hotels, the restaurants, the clubs and the other attractions of downtown Boston. People will not go to Suffolk Downs as part of some other activity or reason to be in Boston, such as attending a convention, visiting the city's historical sites, or going out on the town for the night.

Three, a casino at Suffolk will add to existing congestion in three communities that are densely settled and already very busy: East Boston, Revere and Winthrop. It will thus make life harder for the hard-working folks of generally average (or lower) means who have lived there, worked there, and built those communities for generations.

Four, if horse racing is going to die a natural death in eastern Massachusetts without a rescue from the casino industry, as appears inevitable, talk of a casino at Suffolk forestalls a larger, more important discussion about the best way to reuse the racetrack. It could be argued, for example, that creating more housing in Boston is a higher priority than licensing a casino, and that a transit-oriented housing development is a better way to go, long-term, because the site adjoins the Blue Line, and because the line's Suffolk Downs station could easily accommodate the folks residing in a new "commuter village" there.

To this list we can legitimately add environmental concerns.

In an opinion piece published yesterday (2/22/12) in the Boston Globe, ("The state of green. Patrick has a good track on environment, but there is still a lot of work to be done"), former state senator George Bachrach, now president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, nailed this point when he said:

"Casinos are now on center stage. We need economic development and jobs. The question is where? Foxwoods was built in the middle of nowhere, in the Connecticut countryside. Forty thousand cars a day make the pilgrimage, adding to our pollution. When Massachusetts builds casinos, they must be accessible to an existing infrastructure without putting endless cars on parade, poisoning the air we breathe and despoiling the open spaces we value."

Where in eastern Massachusetts is the most accessible existing infrastructure for a casino? Only in downtown Boston -- and especially near South Station and the convention center. You could get to a casino there by plane, train, bus, car and boat, and you could easily walk to that casino from several excellent, large hotels already operating in that area.

But no one's talking about a downtown casino. All we hear about is Suffolk Downs.

It's still early in the race, though.

Read the entire Bachrach piece at:

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