Everett casino hurts neighborhoods, local economy

On May 23, 2013, in Latest News, by The News Staff

mayor_webBy Joseph A. Curtatone

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)

Just one hundred yards across the Mystic River from Somerville’s burgeoning Assembly Square neighborhood lies the proposed site for a 19-story casino in Everett. Somerville and other cities in the region, none of which have a vote on the proposal, are staring down the negative impacts this casino would levy on our local businesses, economic activity, social well-being and our health.

On Somerville’s side of the Mystic River at Assembly Row, we are building a livable, walkable, bikeable, transit-accessible community with a sustainable economic base. It’s the payoff from prudent investments in infrastructure. We’re bringing in transit with the new Orange Line station. We’re breaking ground on new homes and office buildings, restaurants and stores. We’re unlocking the magic of the waterfront with a new 6-acre park. We’re building a neighborhood that will both cultivate a better quality of life and strengthen our tax base to help pay for citywide public services. We have learned from the past to play the long game not the short game, to be diligent not desperate.

On the Everett side of the river, it’s a very different story. They are talking about building a casino, a myopic and volatile strategy that has a detrimental impact on quality of life and drains the tax base, requiring more and more city expenditures and services to counter its impact. The data shows that when casinos go up, crime and other social ills go up with them while spending at area businesses goes down. What looks now like the promise of glamour and glitz is nothing more than fool’s gold. There could not be a bigger contrast between two sites a hundred yards apart.

Playing the short game with a casino threatens the local businesses that form the backbone of our city and regional economy. One of the dollar figures being waved in front of Everett’s nose is $50,000 worth of vouchers to Everett restaurants and local businesses. These vouchers would be given for free to gamblers at the casino. But gamblers do not tend to stand up from the slot machine and decide to drive elsewhere to shop or eat. The longest distance gamblers travel when visiting a casino is from the parking lot to the casino’s front door.

In Atlantic City, one-third of the city’s retail businesses closed within four years after the casinos opened. Within 20 years, two-thirds of the city’s independent restaurants had also closed. Similar statistics abound in casino areas. No amount of free vouchers can compensate for the decimation of one- to two-thirds of local businesses.

Somerville’s core value is to make our city a great place to live, work, play and raise a family. Casinos hurt families. Between 1990 and 1998, as increasing numbers of states legalized casinos, Gamblers Anonymous chapters more than doubled according to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission. In a survey of nearly 400 Gamblers Anonymous members, 28 percent reported either a gambling-related divorce or separation and others admitted their gambling had led them to stealing, bankruptcy or thoughts of suicide. We should be building healthy families, not introducing ways to break them.

An Everett casino would also worsen traffic and pollution. Somerville and communities around the proposed casino site already have several environmental justice zones, where people face a disproportionate burden of traffic-related pollution. We’re working to correct this by investing in alternative transportation, or by advocating for the grounding of McGrath Highway, which the state just announced it will transform into a ground-level boulevard. But now, just as we’re making progress, we again face increased traffic impact. An exhaustive study by MIT and University of California at Berkeley researchers pinpointed the most traffic-congested Boston-area neighborhoods, and Everett was one of the worst. A casino would only exacerbate that problem, rippling through the entire metro area.

In 2007, as president of the Massachusetts Mayors’ Association, I hosted a panel of casino experts in Somerville. Two were in favor of casinos and one was opposed, but they all agreed on one thing: You do not place casinos where you already have an established economic base. You create a destination resort. Not only has the Commonwealth taken the ill-advised step of allowing casinos in Massachusetts at all, but it is also allowing one in the urban core. It defies common sense.

Massachusetts’ casino law alludes to regional cooperation in terms of mitigation, but then contradicts itself by taking a narrow approach to who has a say in where casinos are placed. Only Everett residents can vote on whether Las Vegas tycoon Steve Wynn can build his casino here on the Mystic, but Somerville, Charlestown, Chelsea, even Medford and Malden and beyond will be impacted. None of those communities have a say. The facts will have to instead speak loudly for us. We need to slow down and look at the data, not the spinning dollar signs.

 

18 Responses to “Everett casino hurts neighborhoods, local economy”

  1. Barry the Pig says:

    Curtatone is right on this. But what are we supposed to do?

  2. ritepride says:

    Somerville was too slow. Back when the economy was good Medford, Everett, etc. moved development. Their planners worked on developing and prospered with things like Station Landing in Medford & the Retail Shopping site in Everett.

    Meanwhile Somerville was supporting that Mystic View group which resulted in constant delays. Thus we ended up with that Fric Frack Development group which has already hit the taxpayers with a costly $25 million bond to pay for the developers construction responsibility.

    Now the mayor’s whining because Everett is benefitting from their sound planning judgement. Meanwhile Somerville’s off the wall development planning, which benefits a few and not the majority and has placed Somerville in the Losers circle. The taxpayers are not suprised.

  3. MR says:

    Oh no, this might affect the chain stores and bars going in at Assembly Row.

  4. Bostom says:

    Barry,

    He may well be right. More than likely, though, he’s nervous. If a casino comes to Everett, the house of cards Joe built will fall down.

    And of course, we the taxpayers of Somerville will get stuck with the bill.

  5. Not My Real Name says:

    “In a survey of nearly 400 Gamblers Anonymous members, 28 percent reported either a gambling-related divorce or separation and others admitted their gambling had led them to stealing, bankruptcy or thoughts of suicide. We should be building healthy families, not introducing ways to break them.”

    So true. I look forward to Mayor Curtatone rejecting all revenue Somerville receives from the MA Lottery.

  6. Verna Grasso says:

    I strongly disagree! While traffic and congestion will be a problem, the casino will create revenue, jobs, need for housing. Atlantic City is a poor example. It was placed in the middle of a completely deteriorated neighborhood. Look at Foxwoods and Moghen Sun. Local area hotels are always booked, people staying there for a while go to the museums and aquarium and local restaurants. Employment skyrocketed. Demand for housing did as well. All those employees need a place to live. There are good points and bad. I love you Joe, but you are only looking at the down side, there are a lot of advantages. As far as GA goes. Give me a break, Foxwoods is only 2 hours aways, I think Twin Rivers is even closer. If you are a gambling junkie, then you are already traveling there. Making it closer only gives the taxes on that money to MA instead of CT. I know people who have lost their houses playing the lottery or illegally betting on sports games. This just brings the money home.

  7. A. Moore says:

    Beat me to it ritepride. Could not have said it better. I doubt if we will get near Wellington Circle when all this is over anyway.

  8. Ada T says:

    Not so sue it will be That negative!
    When I gamble, I love Vouchers! I use them all the time to save money and enjoy the surrounding places!

    I only hope and pray Assembly Tow gets better restaurants than that Burger Dive!
    Those burgers are aweful!

  9. MarketMan says:

    ritepride: I agree that Somerville moved too slow, but how is a casino considered sound judgment?

    Bostom: Joe’s not the only one that is nervous. I really hope the vision for Assembly Row works. But judging by what’s already being built, I’m not confident it will be successful :-/

  10. paul says:

    Station Landing was not a success. They had to auction off apartments there. There is just less demand to live in car oriented cities. Also I don’t see anyone clamoring to shop at the Meadow Glynn Mall

  11. Not my real name either says:

    The fact of the matter is this: Mayor Curtatone is correct. Casinos are short-term strategies. Yes, casinos create jobs. But the jobs that are created are low-wage, low-skill positions that offer few benefits or opportunities for upward mobility. Those are the types of jobs that a city clamors for when there’s no strategy in place to create pathways out of poverty. At least the development of Assembly Square will incorporate new housing (12.5% of which will be affordable), office space (in some cases, built to spec for the needs of growing biotech companies), and small-scale retail outlets. There will be access to a waterfront park, a brand new theater, and the state’s first transit stop in decades.

    Even with a casino, Everett can’t offer what Assembly Square promises.

    Casinos are a good option for areas with little promise of attracting other uses, like the casinos you’ve referenced in Connecticut. Less-vibrant towns in Massachusetts, like Palmer and New Bedford, provide more promise for casinos because they have trouble attracting businesses otherwise. This isn’t the case for Everett, or any of the neighboring towns. Casinos here are not the highest and best use.

    Moreover, once cities and towns become reliant on casino revenue, there’s no going back. We saw this during the Great Recession: school systems, public works departments, and safety (fire/police) departments in casinos’ host municipalities were devastated by the decrease in funding. Relying on casino revenue is just poor fiscal management. Once casinos start to proliferate, and and they will, the market will become diluted and the shining new casinos will lose their appeal.

    From an economic standpoint, Mayor Joe is spot on. Somerville has a better end game that doesn’t include casinos. We should applaud him for taking such a strong stance against the proposed Everett casino.

  12. Ray Spitzer says:

    Bostom, you are right! Curtatone is already positioning himself to lame the casino for the flop in Assembly Square that we would see no matter what!

  13. Oldguy323 says:

    Using Atlantic City is a poor example. Las Vegas, Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun, Twin Rivers, Biloxi MS the list goes on…Casinos work. Supply jobs creates tax revenue and builds growth. Sorry Somerville you missed the boat AGAIN

  14. A. Moore says:

    Don’t blame Everett for grabbing the casino if they can. Would have been great for Assembly Square. People are going out spending their food money here in Somerville on lottery tickets, what’s the difference. Assembly is going for high end stores, I expect they will come and go if they don’t do volume business and if they do that will bring a ton of traffic here. Judging from the Station Landing and offices that does not look too promising for us. There will be some jobs at assembly but I don’t see that there will be a lot of high paying jobs, most look like better than minimum wage jobs. But they can always take the extra retail and office space and put more people there.

  15. MarketMan says:

    I have to agree with the “Not my real name” siblings.

    Oldguy323: the examples you gave did work, but look at what they have in common. There was nothing there to attract people otherwise. Vegas was a desert! In a populated metro region, there are much better options for sustainable long-term economic growth and jobs at all levels.

  16. CarterPhillip says:

    It’s only right that Everett investigated, surveyed and figured the best use for contaminated soil would be to develop it with the power and know-how of Wynn. Medford and Somerville are doing what is right for their communities – with Stations Landing and Assembly Row.

    Everett is doing what is right to bolster its economy even more and bring jobs, lower taxes and an economic boost to an area that needs it. Somerville has no say in the matter; us residents of Everett do and we support it – it’s in a location that is commercial and will thrive on our river banks.

    Everett didn’t tell Medford or Somerville what to do on their river banks and we expect the same respect, dear Mayor. We are going to build this to the heavens and I can see water shuttles in our future. It’s going to be the economic Power magnet that will outshine our sister cities. We support your sites now and expect the same – I see all continuing to prosper because we’re densely populated and can support all three cities.

    Kudos to a plan that was well thought out to inspire commerce, jobs and growth to an area that can support a project like this. We rebuilt our roads, lighting and once Alford St bridge is complete – it’ll be smooth sailing. Cheers Everett!!

  17. Shirley Marquez says:

    One thing that nobody has mentioned is that the Everett proposal isn’t a favorite to happen. Although the Suffolk Downs plan does not yet have a community agreement in place it is widely regarded as the front-runner for the eastern Massachusetts site, and I believe it would be a better one because of transit availability. From Suffolk Downs, walking the Freedom Trail would be a quick ride away on the Blue Line; Everett can’t match that.

    Here in the US, we really haven’t tried putting a casino within easy reach of a city that is already a popular destination. (Las Vegas is only a destination BECAUSE of the casinos and Atlantic City was a failing resort town.) I suspect the combination will be a unique draw that brings in people who will both gamble AND visit the nearby attractions.

  18. Ron Newman says:

    I’m not much in favor of casinos, but if Everett must have one, could Somerville at least get one benefit from it? How about a pedestrian/bike bridge from Draw 7 Park in Somerville (at the new Assembly Square Orange Line station) to Gateway Center in Everett? That would help both cities and both developments, and possibly reduce car traffic at the same time.

Leave a Reply

*