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East Boston votes no to $1B casino, while its neighbor eyes the gamble

suffolk downs660.jpg

Proposed casino on site of former Suffolk Downs racetrack on East Boston/Revere line.

Residents in East Boston are finding themselves on the losing end of a multi-million dollar gamble that would have brought a casino and thousands of permanent jobs to their community. Instead, voters there shot down the deal only to see residents in the neighboring city of Revere take it up.

Now, East Bostonians are stuck with the prospect of a casino and resort being built in roughly the same spot but without reaping any of the financial benefits or having a say in how it’s run.

According to racetrack operator Suffolk Downs’ website, the resort would have 300-450 luxury hotel rooms, 16 restaurants that range from fine dining to a food court, and hundreds of thousands of square feet of gaming and retail space. 

Under an agreement Suffolk Downs signed with the city of Boston in August, developers agreed to pay Boston $33.4 million up front -- to be directed to the neighborhood of East Boston -- and guarantee the city at least $32 million annually. The casino also guaranteed at least 4,000 permanent jobs. Suffolk Downs poured another $2 million on a campaign to sway East Boston voters that was largely built on promises of creating a “good urban environment.” In contrast, casino opponents spent $34,000.

But when East Bostonians went to the polls last Tuesday, they voted down the $1 billion casino proposal by 56-44 percent.

What happened next was a worst-case scenario for residents. As the “no” votes started to stack up, the developers for the casino began talking about moving the project 52 acres away – to Revere.

Suffolk Downs confirmed to FoxNews.com that they have been in contact with officials from Revere in an attempt to salvage the project.

“We have already begun a robust planning process with our team of architects, engineers and environmental consultants and the City of Revere,” Suffolk Downs Chairman William Mulrow wrote in a Nov. 13-dated letter to Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby.

A Revere-only proposal would also include “significant additional payments to the city,” Mulrow said.

Many East Boston residents, like Pat Benti, had pinned their hopes to the proposal. The casino was supposed to create jobs and investment opportunities and jump-start redevelopment initiatives.

“Shame on these people (who voted against the proposal),” Benti told The Boston Globe. “Now East Boston doesn’t even get a single penny.”

The casino conflict leading up to Tuesday’s vote had divided many in the East Boston neighborhood.

Declining home values, escalating crime and traffic jams were among the concerns some had with the project.

“Just 25 years ago, people were running from East Boston,” Mike Ross, a district city councilor, wrote in an opinion piece for the newspaper. Ross says the area has changed a lot in the last two decades, going from a place where garbage was strewn everywhere and “cars were burned beneath the highway ramps” to a place of economic revival, opportunity and neighborhood pride.

Today, the area has a new YMCA and library and the once-dilapidated housing project has been rebuilt. But Ross warns that with the improvements come “understandable fears.”

“About 70 percent of the neighborhood are renters who are at the mercy of a market that may be one the verge of exploding,” Ross said. “They warily eye the new development, knowing that only 8 percent of their existing neighbors would even be able to afford the new luxury rents."

Multiple calls and email requests made by FoxNews.com to speak with Ross were not returned. 

Another concern some had was about escalating crime in the area. However, statistics from the Boston Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation show Revere as a slightly safer location.

East Boston, which boasts a population of 40,000 compared with Revere’s 53,000, has a higher major crime rate. According to the Boston Police Department, there were 15 rapes, 104 robberies and 151 assaults in East Boston through Nov. 4, 2012. In Revere, those numbers were lower – three rapes, 49 robberies and 126 assaults, according to FBI statistics.

Still, a casino in Revere isn’t a done deal.

The project as a whole was dealt a setback when casino operator Caesars Entertainment withdrew amid concerns raised during a background check by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. 

Suffolk Downs says it will name a new partner by the end of the year and that they "have received strong interest in potential partnerships from a number of top-class gaming companies."