On top of the subsidy, DeLeo is also pushing Suffolk Downs as the site for the casino in the eastern Massachusetts zone. This is sad, because Suffolk Downs isn’t a place you go to gamble, but a place you take your kids to see what gambling does to you. Unlike the Kentucky Derby or the high season at Saratoga — both of which offer a pastiche of moldering aristocracy, nouveau riche ostentation, and Dionysian depravity recalling the glory days of Weimar Berlin — a trip to Suffolk Downs is like hanging out at the South Station bus terminal. If the Derby is a lissome supermodel sipping mint juleps and batting her surgically enhanced eyelashes your way, Suffolk Downs is the 32-year-old behind the register at a Dunkie’s in Chelsea with a face like a bomber jacket and a voice like a dump truck compression-braking on the Central Artery.
Let’s face it: Gambling at Suffolk Downs isn’t going to attract many tourists. And with Maine building a casino in Oxford and adding slots faster than lobster traps, a Suffolk Downs casino would, at best, corner the market on compulsive gamblers from Framingham to Haverhill. If Massachusetts intends on using state-sponsored piracy to supplement the more time-honored means of revenue generation, we at least ought to follow the example of our Revolutionary ancestors — many a Yankee fortune was built on letters of marque, after all — and go after foreign ships. And the Seaport, coincidentally, would make a far better location for a casino.
Boston could always use another large hotel, and the World Trade Center, with a name that recalls the worst day in living history and a purpose no one is quite sure of, offers an ideal location. It’s yards away from two major highways, a five-minute ferry ride from the airport, and a short walk from the convention center, which weekly fills with a revolving cast of thousands of balding midwestern salesmen practically begging for a game of blackjack. Visiting oligarchs could dock their mega-yachts right alongside the high-stakes baccarat tables, and a $20 cover charge could keep the place from becoming a daily stop for the locals.
There’s really no Seaport neighborhood to ruin in the first place, but the idea that casinos are filthy establishments best relegated to former Superfund sites is both a quirk of American Puritanism and a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Berlin are all home to multiple casinos and yet show no signs of turning into Reno-on-the-Rhine. Just to our north, Montreal offers visitors the opportunity to lose their shirt at its casino; watch coeds earn tuition money by removing theirs in certain Rue Sainte-Catherine establishments; and experience Quebec’s continental culture and gastronomy — all without any heads exploding.
With respect to Mayor Menino’s grand vision for Boston, truly world-class cities beckon visitors and residents alike with a variety of activities beyond riding your bicycle to the farmers’ market. If Boston is losing anything to other cities, it’s not for lack of cultural refinement or places to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner before retiring home to a warm bath and some Matlock. A casino could be the catalyst to turn the Seaport into a true entertainment district running from the Institute of Contemporary Art out to the Black Falcon Cruise Terminal; if we’re feeling extra bold, we can even add a designated open-container area along Northern Avenue and extend bar hours. God forbid we ever have some actual fun in this city. Of course, if the Seaport doesn’t seem right, there’s always that giant hole in the ground in Downtown Crossing….