Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Forum feedback

Some thoughts on tonight's "Forum on Casino Gambling at Suffolk Downs":

1. The event began more than a half-hour late for no reason that was evident or announced to the crowd, which became restless and started chanting for things to begin. The forum finally began at 7:07 p.m. I left about 8:10 while the question session was going on.

2. The format was apparently decided on the fly, as the moderator would, at each juncture, look back and forth and around the room as if to say, "How should we do this?" I'm not sure why time wasn't used to figure out the ground rules while the speakers were standing and chit-chatting.

3. I don't know why Suffolk Downs COO Chip Tuttle was included among elected officials who were given time to speak. I didn't vote for him and neither did anyone else in the room. Plus, his weekly newsletter is distributed free to all of us.

4. Some elected officials, in a move that seemed rather arrogant, made clear that they were going to speak longer than the time allotted. Since some of them are part of the bill-crafting process and have the media at their disposal -- especially the East Boston Times, which is their mouthpiece -- it seems unfair that they would go past the time they were given when members of the public were limited to writing questions on pieces of paper.

5. The most misguided -- and frankly, offensive -- statement was that an independent and comprehensive study of the positives and negatives of casino gambling in Massachusetts is not needed. Huh? Since the research that the legislature is currently using was provided by studies funded by the casino industry AND since an independent study of casino gambling nationally, cited tonight by one of the speakers for the opposition, shows that there are $3 of public expenditure for every $1 expanded gambling brings to a state, it would seem shortsighted and negligent not to have one done -- unless proponents of casinos do not want the public to see the list of consequences that a study reveals.

22 comments:

Kazak said...

Jim,

Actually the announcements I received on the forum said registration at 6:30 and event to start at 7:00 -- so it was only a few minutes late. I didn't feel there was that much confusion on the format, just on who would start.

I agree that they really stacked the deck on one side by inviting all the politicians to pontificate. I stepped out during Basile's bit, but I could hear the cheers from the john, so I can only assume he was throwing some red meat to the union boys in the back of the room.

I thought the geriatric group of irate Suffolk Downs employees on the right hand side of the room were quite obnoxious interrupting John Ribeiro's attempts to answer their questions.

Quite a lot of questions unasked and still alot to go over. Hopefully there will be more venues for discussion.

Interesting note -- you could count on one hand the number of non-white people in the room. Funny, I could have sworn I saw a few more pigmently-endowed folks walking around the neighborhood today...

Jim said...

Good points. Thanks for the info on the start time. The emails I received from John Ribeiro said 6:30 p.m. and today's Times says clearly, "The forum will begin at 6:30 p.m...."

Kazak said...

By the by, one issue that came up at an Eagle Hill Civic Assoc. meeting attended by Basile and Petrucelli that didn't come up last night was the issue of auto insurance rates. Rates are affected by how many accidents are recorded in your zipcode (or neighborhood or whatever geographic unit of measure they use). So having Logan in our n'hood results in more traffic - more accidents and therefore higher insurance rates than say Hyde Park (just to pick some other n'hood without an airport).

So having a huge draw like a destination casino along with the airport and tunnel entrances to two major interstates, means more traffic, more accidents higher insurance rates (potentially). Does anyone have hard data to back up this theory? (I don't, I'm just recounting what I heard.)

So in addition to the environmental burden (of car, truck and plane traffic) and the social burdens of a casino, we also get the financial burden (in auto insurance rates) while the financial benefit will be going out to the whole state (and most definitely some politicians' election campaign accounts).

Eastie gets screwed again.

Matthew said...

I agree with you about the local officials and Chip Tuttle from Suffolk Downs being given to time speak – their comments were little more than pro-casino endorsements and it was unfair that the opponents of the casino did not have a similar amount of time to make their case. If our State Senator, Representative, and City Councilor are knowledgeable enough to support a casino at Suffolk Downs, they should have felt comfortable sitting on a panel and defending their position. Instead, our elected officials decided to make lengthy pitches for the casino, with little justification other than “I’m sick of hearing stories about people being out of work”, and did not have the decency to sit around for the Q&A that followed.

It was very disappointing that the pro-casino camp made an effort to shout over the panelists for the opposition. The anti-gambling folks came armed with solid facts and figures about the impacts casinos have on their surrounding communities; the pro-gambling side (which had absolutely no specific information related to Suffolk Downs) chose to deal in generalities about job creation and gambling dollars that would otherwise go to other states. In addressing concerns about gambling and addiction, the pro-casino camp’s main argument was that “gambling is already here with racetracks, lottery, scratch tickets, Keno – so why not add a casino?” That’s like saying “we already have handgun violence in the city, why not allow more gun shops?” Great logic.

Will a new casino create construction jobs? Absolutely, but after a few short years of actual development, those construction jobs will be gone, while East Boston will be left with a casino indefinitely. The union workers, most of whom were not from the neighborhood and were required to attend last night’s event, don’t care about the long-term effects of a casino and are instead focused on the short-term sugar high of temporary work. The bottom line is that these union groups are motivated solely by self-interest and don’t care whether they’re building offices, prisons, power plants, or tree houses.

One of my greatest frustrations was that NONE of the gambling advocates made an argument for WHY EAST BOSTON? All of the arguments for the casino could have applied to any location in the state – and we’re already set to get at least two other casinos which will create jobs, capture more gambling dollars from going out of state, etc. Suffolk Downs alleges they can’t stay in business without gambling, so is this a BAILOUT at the community’s expense? Chip Tuttle mentioned the racetrack has 350 year-round employees of which 40 come from East Boston. Is this the sole reason for locating a casino in a neighborhood that already pays an enormous price for hosting New England’s largest and busiest airport – to save 40 local jobs?

Finally, despite many great written questions from the audience, the moderator (an unabashed casino supporter) chose easy questions for the pro-casino panel such as “how many jobs will the new casino create?” and avoided the more insightful inquires.

Jim said...

Kazak makes a good point. Our auto insurance is already super-high because of the airport and tunnels.

And I agree with each point that Matthew makes as well. The gambling-is-already-here-we -have-the-lottery argument is insulting. I almost shouted out, "No one leaves their kid in the car for six hours when playing the lottery," which is only one small reason that the analogy is foolish.

Matthew said...

Kazak - I couldn’t find anything on the web specifically related to increases in auto insurance rate due to casinos or increased traffic accidents due to the development of casinos, but have a look at the following:

The San Jose, California, police department reported significant increases in crime in the vicinity of a new cardroom in the year after its opening. Narcotics offenses increased by 200 percent, property crimes by 83 percent, petty thefts by 56 percent, auto thefts by 21 percent, and traffic accidents by 55 percent in a single year.

(Source: Louis A. Cobarruviaz, City of San Jose Memorandum from the Chief of Police to the Mayor and City Council, October 27, 1995.)

I’m sure any increase in auto thefts will cause our car insurance premiums to rise (and we already have to contend with pretty high premiums right now).

Matthew said...

After the debate Chip Tuttle, COO of Suffolk Downs, was kind enough to offer to field any additional questions the community may have. Mr. Tuttle, here are the first of many questions that were overlooked by the debate’s “moderator”:

“East Boston has been hard hit by foreclosures and faces higher levels of crime, prostitution, and drug abuse. Won’t building a casino here increase these problems and lead to an exploitation of our most vulnerable residents?”

“This neighborhood already has to deal with increased traffic, noise, and poor air quality due to the presence of Logan Airport. Why should East Boston residents have to deal with additional traffic, pollution, and crime associated with a casino?”

“Infrastructure costs related to a casino development at Suffolk Downs have been estimated around $500 million. How does the development team plan to fund these costs and can we get assurances that the developer will not seek local, state, or federal funding and/or grants to pay for their obligations?”

“How can Suffolk Downs assure the community that a resort-style casino will actually be built? Las Vegas Sands promised residents of Bethlehem PA a resort casino, but after more than a year, not a single hotel has built while the casino has been open. The Mayor of Bethlehem is now working to tie the casino’s license renewal to the completion of the hotel. How can we be sure that Suffolk Downs team will deliver on its promises and fulfill their obligations to the neighborhood?”

“Vornado Realty is a minority partner in the Suffolk Downs team. Given Vorando’s stalled development at the old Filene’s building, in a much more prominent location that has caused considerable embarrassment to the Mayor, how can we be sure that Suffolk Downs will be completed as promised and that the developer will fulfill all of their obligations?

Mid-Life Progress said...

Jim,

So glad you made it out the other night. I didn't see you come in or you would have been met with a copy of the agenda/format, questionnaire and an overview of the intended execution of the event.

That being said, the best laid plans of mice and men....cannot account for variables beyond our control. Particularly when you introduce the human element of folks with differing views who will do what it takes to further their point of view.

John did an excellent job of garnering discussion and participation from those that were resistant to even sit down with him initially.

He is also to be lauded for his extreme composure in the face of incoherent heckles and jeers from proponents.

There are several questions still to be answered. So, it is fortunate that John Ribeiro - and "Neighbors Of Suffolk Downs" has no intention of going away.

Celeste Myers

Neighbor said...

Logistical Issues: Duly noted and will be addressed at the next forum...
The speakers were to have taken two minutes each... you saw what happened...
Chip was invited as the representative of Suffolk Downs... and as such I believe his participation was appropriate... to his credit he was the only speaker to remain in his seat the entire time... (Tim Cahill's people did let me know ahead of time that he would be leaving shortly after he participated; they asked if that would be ok)
From my seat on the dais, I did see that the Senator was around from time to time... but I did not see the Representative or the Councilor after 8:10...
I wish I had thought to stand up and ask people to take a look around the room when I was being shouted down...
They brought in all of those unions folks to shout me down... think of that for a minute... I am just a single man with questions that need to be answered... and they are so fearful of those questions and they have such little regard for all of us that they wanted to drown us out... and had no intention of sitting and listening to our concerns...
John Ribeiro
www.NeighborsOfSuffolkDowns.org

John Q. Public said...

Auto insurance rates are not necessarily affected by where accidents occur. In fact, I think if you do some research you will see that accidents are reflected on where vehicles are registered. Jimbo I thought you would be more careful to look into things a bit further rather than jumping on the "ring the alarm" speculation band wagon (..."our auto insurance is already super high because of the airport and tunnels") Really Jimbo? Please direct me to the source for such a statement. If I am not mistaken, auto insurance rates are somewhat higher in Eastie because of the relatively higher number of personal injury claims made by owners of vehicles registered in this community. As for the forum decided on the fly - I thought they stuck to the agenda with the exception of closing statements. And why was it so wrong to hear from Chip Tuttle...the group organizing the event was called "Neighbors of Suffolk Downs." Seems to me that having someone there to make some sort of a statement was pretty fair. Not really sure what the complaint is there.

Jim said...

Thanks for the input, John Q.

I did some research, and every site I looked at on the Internet says that geographic area plays a role in determining insurance rates. Places with more accidents have higher rates. It makes sense, of course, from the insurance company point of view. I’m not saying that East Boston is the only place that has a significant number of vehicles driven by out-of-towners, but we have a large number because of the airport and the tunnels. More traffic means more accidents, and a casino at the edge of the neighborhood would mean much more traffic.

The information I received on the forum came via email from organizer John Ribeiro and from the East Boston Times. Both said the forum started at 6:30 p.m. and neither noted any agenda. I didn’t know there was one until I read it on the blog later that night. I must have missed it when I entered the hall. Still, it did look like the participants were making up the rules as they went along, no?

My objection to Chip Tuttle speaking when he did is that it was during the portion of the evening set aside for elected officials to speak. No one elected Tuttle; he is not a community leader; he doesn’t speak for the people of the neighborhood; and he is not motivated by what is best for East Boston. If he wanted to participate in the event he should have been sitting at the proponents’ table.

The wealthy interests behind casino gambling have framed the debate, influenced the media and swayed elected officials. They’ve spent big bucks to get what they want ($2 million in 2009 alone). Suffolk Downs, which has spent several hundred thousand dollars on lobbyists and campaign contributions, has its point of view advanced by the Times each week and Tuttle’s words are never questioned in its pages. There are plenty of other voices in the community that should be heard.

Mid-Life Progress said...

Jim,

To your point SOME participants made up the rules as they went along. We're chalking it up to important lessons learned early and cheaply enough.

As for the decision to allow Chip Tuttle to speak, although he was invited to sit on the panel and declined, the goal was to provide a fair and balanced presentation on both sides of the issue. To that end, and wanting to avoid the perception of deliberately presenting a one sided argument against the casino - Mr. Tuttle's request to participate was granted. I believe that the agenda reserved room for him among 'noteable' guests.

As alluded to, although it was John's goal to provide a fair and balanced forum - it is unfortunate that it was not shared by all participants. The "filibutster" tactics employed by our pols, overlooking of questions by our moderator, and general unruliness of casino proponents in the audience, led to the abrupt end prior to closing statements.

So Jim - yes, there were some who were making up their own rules in a forum that John thoughtfully planned and put together. But I hope that you and the community won't hold that against John. Perhaps it is to some degree - foreshadowing. If the casino proponents cannot conduct themselves in a polite forum in such a way that exhibits respect and consideration of it's participants - what can we anticipate their behavior will be when the time comes to plan a casino at Suffolk Downs?

With regards to the communication of schedule, I know that John sent out several notifications and in some, the actual start time may not have been clear. I know that John has made note of that.

Best Regards,
Celeste

Jim said...

"I hope that you and the community won't hold that against John."

On the contrary: I think that John is doing a service to the community and I applaud him for it.

John Q. Public said...

Jimbo:

You know I hate to say it - but you are dead wrong. To make such statements about auto insurance in Eastie (with no credible source) is really the height of hypocrisy - especially when it comes during what is supposed to be an intelligent debate over siting a casino in East Boston. I heard the blanket statement made at the forum and now have seen it on here a few times.

Statements that "Our auto insurance is already super-high because of the airport and tunnels" or "More traffic means more accidents" are (and have been) easily dismissed by a little comparative research. Instead of surfing the web for others who speculate on the disparity in insurance premiums, try visiting the most relevant and reliable website concerning Massachusetts Auto Insurance. I am guessing that none of your browsers directed you to the Massachusetts Division of Insurance Information Portal for Consumers.

When last I checked Roxbury has no airport or tunnels or related traffic running through their community. Why then is the range of premiums for drivers registering the same cars, with the same experience rating, and similar driving history actually higher than if it were registered in East Boston? More traffic? I doubt it. By your logic, people from other cities traveling through Roxbury get into more accidents than those that travel through East Boston. Im sure if you check, places like Chelsea, Charlestown, and South Boston are actually on par with Eastie Insurance rates and they hardly don't have all of the same impacts we have.

Let's not forget the North End/Waterfront, which is certainly closer to the Airport, serves as the host to two tunnel portals, home to TD Garden, and probably is one of the largest draws for tourism in Boston. So why is it that places like Lawrence, Lynn, Dorchester, and Mattapan all have higher premiums than the North End? Do you mean to tell me that more people drive through Mattapan than through the North End?

Don't believe me?

Check it out for yourself... http://www.autoratecompare.doi.state.ma.us/IRCSearch1.aspx

To get a relative sample of rates, simply use the same criteria and change the zip codes to get a comparison which will give you the range of premiums for registering a vehicle in that neighborhood.

John Q. Public said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Q. Public said...

Kazak

Please see previous post re: auto insurance rates. It's easy to make alarmist statements but sometimes tougher to back them up. Everyone should do their homework before they come to class.

Jim said...

"To make such statements about auto insurance in Eastie (with no credible source) is really the height of hypocrisy..."

OK, first of all, find out what "hypocrisy" is before tossing out cliches that you think sound nice.

Secondly, I looked at the web site you refer to and one of the criteria is zip code. As I said, where one lives affects the cost of one's auto insurance. Some places have more accidents or cases of theft and vandalism than others. Insurance rates are higher depending on the level of those incidents in a particular city, town or neighborhood. East Boston will undoubtedly have more traffic if there is a casino here. More traffic, I say again, means more accidents. Therefore, we'll be paying higher auto insurance rates. Why is that hard to understand?

John Q. Public said...

Jim

What's so hard to understand? Maybe I should be asking you the same thing! You said "Our auto insurance is already super-high BECAUSE of the airport and tunnels" (emphasis added). I say you are wrong and provide you with examples, sources, and logic as to why you are wrong. So if more traffic means more accidents (and hence higher insurance rates) why can't you give me a logical answer to the question of why Mattapan pays a higher rate than the North End? Or why does Charlestown pay the same as East Boston? It's easy - more bad drivers or drivers who make more claims to their insurance companies is what makes insurance premiums higher for a particular zip code - not the accidents which occur in that zip code.

As for what hypocrisy do I speak of? How about throwing out unfounded and baseless claims about what a casino will do to our community's insurance rates or claiming that our rates are "super high because of the airport and tunnels" while in the same breath accusing the proponents of expanded gaming of providing misinformation? Sounds like a double standard to me.

Jim said...

That's more like it. Now the context of your hypocrisy accusation makes sense.

OK, maybe I should have written that our rates are "higher because" instead of our rates are "high because."

There are more accidents OR stolen cars OR vandalism in the neighborhoods you refer to that have higher insurance rates.

Do you live in East Boston, John Q? Are you aware of the way Massport screwed over the neighborhood for 50 years while breaking promises to residents? Why are you so prepared to hand over our quality of life to another giant, uncaring interest?

John Q. Public said...

Not sure any of my comments suggest that I am willing to "hand over our quality of life to another giant uncaring interest." Where did I say that? Please direct me. I think my comments have been pretty specific in questioning some of the unsupported statements made by you and others regarding insurance rates as well as the hyperbole concerning your suggestion that a casino means nothing but octogenarians betting their social security check at the roulette wheel or that it attracts nothing but uncaring parents who will leave a parking lot full of cars with kids locked inside.

I think there is a way to state your position without sounding like the end of the world is near. Along with their opinion of the positives, proponents of gaming at Suffolk Downs seem to regularly acknowledge negatives (gambling addiction, traffic, and public safety issues). In fact they identify these issues as being matters which must be addressed as part of any plan. But I always wondered why opponents can't even acknowledge any of the benefits or how they should be addressed and instead opt for providing extreme anecdotes of every possible worst case scenario which is intended to promote fear as opposed to discussion.

I am still waiting to hear of what opponents would consider to be a better solution for Suffolk Downs that brings a similar level of private investment, job creation and infrastructure improvements. Or would you just rather it close and go away?

Jim said...

Sorry, but I don't have a solution for Suffolk Downs. It's been clear for years that the track was dying a slow death, and Richard Fields and the other investors care about the horse racing only because it gives them an way into a casino.

Look, the real issue that I have a problem with is the lack of an open process that is going on here. No independent study of the pros and cons, no hearings on the House bill. It's all being pushed through without a real understanding of what is coming to town.

Proponents mention the negative consequences only in passing, as in, "We admit there will be some traffic problems and social issues, but we'll take care of those." There's no real attempt to investigate possible downsides and ways to prevent or mitigate them. If we saw facts and honest assessments of what this proposal will do, then we could have a meaningful discussion. Until then, what we have is a case of state and local politicians rushing into something they really do not understand.

John Q. Public said...

Fair enough. We can agree to disagree for now.