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Keller @ Large: East Boston Vote For Suffolk Downs Casino May Be Unconstitutional

BOSTON (CBS) - A casino vote on a planned billion-dollar compex for Suffolk Downs may be unconstitutional.

Before the proposal moves forward, its neighbors in Revere and East Boston need to give the thumbs up.

Read: More From Jon Keller

But, a leading expert on elections says that could be a problem.

These same objections were raised last year when the legislature passed a law that allowed big-city casinos to avoid citywide referendums.

But now, Secretary of State William Galvin is saying the Suffolk Downs casino better watch out for major legal flak ahead.

"It's absurd to have these artificial decisions to say that only certain people can vote," said Galvin.

The state's top election official says lawsuits are likely if all Bostonians aren't allowed to vote on the casino plan, comparing that to excluding certain taxpayers from a property tax override vote to build a new school.

"Do we say, 'Well, only the people in the precinct where the school is can vote?' Nobody else can vote, even though everybody else is going to have to pay for it and everyone else is gonna be affected by it? Of course not," said Galvin.

Under state law, the mayor and the city council have the power to switch to a citywide vote if they choose, but Mayor Tom Menino wants an Eastie-only vote and appears to have close to majority council support, for now.

"I know that if it was in my district, if it was in South Boston, you wanna make sure that the impacted neighborhood would have the most to say on it," said Councilman Bill Linehan.

But, not everyone is in line with the proposed vote.

"Its apples and chainsaws. We cannot compare a roof deck in South Boston with a major billion-dollar casino at Suffolk Downs," said Councilman Matt O'Malley.

"I understand the parochial interests of the city councilors in protecting their turf, but the constitution and the laws when it comes to voting are not so parochial," said Galvin.

Meanwhile, a community group in Revere is raising questions about whether a "no" vote there could derail the casino, even as Mayor Menino's office is questioning whether the state law even gives the Boston City Council the final OK.

Before the Suffolk Downs plan can ever generate construction and casino jobs, it may well prove to be a full-employment program for lawyers.

You can listen to Keller At Large on WBZ News Radio every weekday at 7:55 a.m. and 12:25 p.m. You can also watch Jon on WBZ-TV News.

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