REVERE, Mass. — Organizers on both sides of the casino debate in Revere are making their last pushes to sway voters ahead of a referendum Tuesday in which voters will decide on a proposed $1 billion casino at the Suffolk Downs racetrack.
As early as 8 a.m. on Sunday, two casino supporters stood on the corner of Beach Street and Winthrop Avenue holding signs reading, “Jobs for Revere.”
“You know the No. 1 way of stopping crime in America? Putting people to work,” said Tom Feeley, a member of the Immaculate Conception Church across the street.
His pastor, George Szal, is one of the more vocal critics of the proposed casino, and one of hundreds who would march later that day from the parish to Revere City Hall.
“Atlantic City is known as a slum with casinos,” Szal said. “The suicide rate in Atlantic City went up as soon as the casinos were established.”
Still, Szal admitted they have an uphill battle. The last casino referendum in Revere last November passed with 63 percent of the vote.
That proposal would have built the casino in both East Boston and Revere, but was scrapped after Boston voters rejected it. Under the new plan, the Mohegan Sun casino would only be built in Revere.
But Szal said there was no organized movement against the casino last time. He said the real sentiment in town is more like a 50-50 split.
“I’m very hopeful,” he said. ”With the help of God, and the good spirit of free people to voice their opinion without fear. And there’s been a lot of fear around. You know, I’ve had people tell me, ‘Father, I’m against it, but I can’t say it out loud.’ ”
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Across town, supporters of the proposal gathered at the local VFW post for a rally that included city leaders and Mohegan Sun executives.
“Gambling in Revere isn’t a new thing,” said Mohegan Sun CEO Mitchell Etess. “You’ve had Wonderland and Suffolk Downs here for years. You have gaming industry that’s put children through college, that’s put food on people’s tables. So they understand how it can benefit them.”
Etess has said a casino at Suffolk Downs would create 4,000 jobs.
Louis Ciarlone, who represents workers at the track, said a casino would also save the jobs of the thousand or so people already working there. He said without the casino, the track will go out of business in the next 15 years.
“I’ve read the Holy Bible,” Ciarlone said, addressing criticism from the religious community. “I’ve read it cover to cover four times. And I can’t find a place in that Bible that prohibits gambling or says it’s a sin.”
Even if the referendum passes, there is no guarantee Revere will get a casino. A competing proposal to build a casino in Everett has already passed with voters there.
There is also an effort to repeal the state’s gaming law through a ballot question next fall.