BOSTON — The $1 billion proposal to build a casino at Suffolk Downs is bringing up mixed emotions for East Boston residents.
A handful of people with the group No Eastie Casino stood at the busy intersection of Bennington and Saratoga streets Saturday morning holding signs and handing out postcards outlining their reasons for opposing the proposal, which includes a 300-room hotel, restaurants, retail shops and thousands of slot machines.
For the most part, it was pretty calm as volunteers spoke to drivers stopped at red lights. Many people took flyers and planned to come to a community meeting on Monday. But others said they wanted the casino and the 4,000 permanent jobs developers say it will create.
“You’re crazy, you’re taking away jobs from the area,” one driver said to John Ribeiro.
“That’s going to take jobs away,” Ribeiro replied, as traffic piled up behind him and cars started honking.
Another member of the group No Eastie Casino, Celeste Myers, said the casino may add jobs, but they won’t be the quality that residents deserve.
“You want quality pay, reasonable hours and reasonable benefits. And we all know these are going to be minimum wage, minimum hour, minimum benefit jobs,” Myers said, holding a sign reading “Casinos are terrible neighbors. Vote No.”
Tom Domenico, who has lived in East Boston for more than 50 years, says the increased traffic will put more of a strain on the congested area.
“I’m sick of them trying to drive everything down our throat over here,” Domenico said. “We have four tunnels, an airport. We have two drawbridges. We have pollution like you can’t believe here. … And I’ve had enough. That’s the worst place in the world to put it.”
But Brian Gannon, who moved to East Boston about two-and-a-half years ago, is concerned that the casino will “suck every nickel and dime they can” out of the community.
“What’s going to happen is those people that normally would be downtown having dinner in the North End or shopping at Faneuil Hall may end up dropping more money in the casino that’s going to be taken out of state,” Gannon asked. “To me it’s just moving money from one place to the other.”
Still, some East Boston residents said the community needs jobs. At least two times, leafletters and passersby got into heated exchanges over the issue of whether the casino would benefit or harm East Boston and the surrounding communities.
Diane Ingemi, whose property abuts Suffolk Downs, said they have been a great neighbor. Two weeks ago, she said Suffolk Downs was packed with people watching the Belmont Stakes, but it wasn’t a problem for her.
“You don’t hear no peeps, no trouble, no nothing. Nothing. Security goes around 24 hours a day,” she said, looking at the No Eastie Casino members handing out flyers. “It’s about jobs, jobs, creating jobs,” she yelled.
The proposal is still in the beginning stages. State regulators have not decided whether to give Suffolk Downs the one casino operating license available for the region, and East Boston residents will be able to vote on whether they would approve a casino there. No referendum has been scheduled.