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This past Monday evening, The Latino division of the Chelsea Chamber of Commerce held a community meeting to discuss and learn more about the impacts of the possibility of a large casino coming to the area. Enrique A. Zuniga of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and Chip Tuttle, Suffolk Downs’ chief operating officer were the invited presenters (see pages 12 and 13 for full coverage).

The meeting is one of more to come, as what has become evident to all – as the process is fully explained – is that it is IMPERATIVE that Latino residents and Latino small business owners attend and voice their concerns and opinions.

In the East Boston neighborhood area of 40,000, Latinos make up 53% of the residents and an overwhelming majority of the small businesses in the immediate area that would be affected by a casino are owned by Latinos from Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico, and Guatemala. In Revere, according to the latest census figures, Latinos comprise over 25% of the city’s population.

Undoubtedly, the impact of the casino would drastically affect each and every one – residents and business owners alike.

The plans are to build a $1 billion casino at Suffolk Downs, where developers have explained would create 4,000 permanent jobs and generate $200 million in new tax revenue annually for the state and local communities. Built at the racetrack site, it would also feature a 300-room hotel, restaurants, entertainment venues, and a spa.

The opponents of the project claim that the massive traffic, noise, pollution and possible rise in crime could easily ruin the balance and diversity of residents as well as small businesses in the area. Supporters point to the potential economic windfall, the creation of 3,200 additional permanent jobs and the potential for opportunities for small businesses.

The casino project needs to win referendums in East Boston and Revere before it can qualify for a state license and formal “host community agreements” also need to be reached. Although no official date has been set for those votes, with such a large concentration of Latino voters, the future of the casino may be in the hands of the Hispanic community.

One thing is for sure – Latinos in East Boston, Revere, Chelsea and surrounding communities cannot afford to gamble with their future and this project is certainly going to affect them – how it does depends on how vocal and active our community becomes during this decisive process.