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Boston Mayor Thomas Menino touted the benefits of a proposed resort casino at Suffolk Downs on Thursday as he named a five-member advisory panel to help the city plan for development of a gambling hall at the 77-year-old horse racing track.
Likening it to throwing out the first pitch of the season at Fenway Park or firing the starting gun of the Boston Marathon, Menino said the appointment of the Host Community Advisory Committee was the first official step toward bringing a casino to the city's East Boston neighborhood.
Menino said that it presented a rare and historic economic development opportunity and that the advisory panel would help ensure it was done right.
"Our focus remains on our neighborhoods and our continued commitment to make Boston a beautiful place to live, work and raise your family," the mayor said.
Brian Leary, a former WCVB-TV news anchor and reporter who is now a partner in the law firm of McCarter and English, was named chairman of the panel.
The committee was formed a day after the operators of Suffolk Downs formally asked the cities of Boston and Revere to begin host community negotiations for a casino. The track straddles the two cities. A host agreement would specify what a developer would offer a city to address traffic, public safety and other possible impacts of a casino.
The state's new casino law allows up to three resort-style casinos, including one in eastern Massachusetts. Under the law, firms seeking to develop a casino must negotiate a host community agreement and win the support of residents in a referendum before they can formally apply for a license from the state Gaming Commission.
Suffolk Downs' potential competitors for the eastern license include Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn, who has proposed a casino on land owned by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft in Foxborough. A firm has also expressed interest in developing a casino off Interstate 495 in Milford.
The Boston site would be the more desirable, Menino said, because of its close proximity to Logan International Airport and major convention centers and its status as Massachusetts' most populous city.
"We're not reinventing, to use a bad pun, the roulette wheel," Leary said. "It's been done before. There are other urban centers that have successfully rolled out casinos and have extracted good deals on behalf of the city."
Joining Leary on the advisory committee are Sara Barnat, an East Boston resident and executive of a real estate development firm; Lisa Calise, the city's former director of administration and finance; David Fubini, an executive of management consulting firm McKinsey & Company; and Ronald Walker II, president of Next Street, a Boston-based merchant bank.
The Rev. Richard McGowan, a Boston College professor with expertise on the economics of gaming, would separately provide guidance to the city, the mayor said.
The committee's tasks include advising the city on potential impacts of a casino and gathering input at community meetings, Menino said. The panel won't consider any casino sites in Boston other than Suffolk Downs because no other proposals had been offered, Menino said.
The mayor also said he wouldn't push for a citywide referendum on the proposed Suffolk Downs facility, an option available under the casino law, and would seek to have any vote limited to residents of the East Boston neighborhood.
"My position has always been neighborhood vote," Menino said. "It affects mostly the people of East Boston, and the people of East Boston should have a say in it."
The entire city would benefit from tax revenues generated by the casino, he added.