On a mission from God in East Boston
Another front line has opened up in the battle over an East Boston casino: Multifaith coalitions.
Friends of East Boston, a group of neighborhood ministers, announced their campaign against the Suffolk Downs/Caesar Entertainment plan to bring a $1 billion casino to the Suffolk Downs racetrack. Their message: “Because we believe God has something better for East Boston than a casino.”
At first glance, a coalition of neighborhood churches and other supporters doesn’t look to stand a chance against the might of casino developers. But the clergy is digging deep into the moral well of David versus Goliath symbolism to wage their uphill battle against cold hard cash.
Elsewhere in Massachusetts, faith groups have tried and failed in their campaigns against casinos. The Council of Churches of Western Massachusetts, like their East Boston brethren, had zero dollars in their effort to defeat the MGM Springfield casino proposal. Their campaign never gained any real traction. Springfield voters approved the casino plan 58 percent to 42 percent. The Council has moved onto working with MGM to mitigate the social consequences of problem gambling.
Catholic leaders are engaged in the Eastie group fighting the casino. In a Boston Globe video, Rev. Thomas Domurat of the Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, noted that the group’s opposition is rooted in concerns about gambling addictions, especially in a neighborhood of moderate- and low-income residents.
Certainly, some residents in an area that is also predominately Latino and heavily immigrant will take church leaders’ arguments on board. “I don’t like,” an East Boston businesswoman Juvenita Alvarado told WBUR. “I don’t like. Because if my church says no good here, I say, too, no good for here.”
Many of the churches involved in Friends of East Boston have predominately Latino congregations. Churches play crucial social roles in many such communities and clergy will have the ear of their congregations at least once a week, if not more.
While it is difficult to gauge the impact of a faith-backed opposition effort, what is quantifiable is that the support for an East Boston casino is narrow, at least further afield in Boston. A recent WBUR/MassINC Polling Group survey of likely Boston mayoral preliminary voters showed 47 percent of respondents supported a casino; 44 percent were opposed.
It remains to be seen whether a social justice message will trump the job creation and other economic talking points that casino developers pitch. East Boston, and East Boston only, votes on the Suffolk Downs casino proposal on November 5.
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