Casino Countdown: Imminent Opening Reveals Possible Weaknesses

At the Council meeting on March 25, members expressed the concern that the City had not done enough to prepare for the inundation of motor vehicles about to descend on Everett. At Monday’s Council meeting, members proposed two new areas of potential weakness that could be exacerbated by the Encore Casino, slated to open on June 23.

•Bridge Closing Traffic

One concern was the potential for increased bridge closings due to a spike in waterway usage under the Alford Bridge.

Councillors Michael Marchese, Wayne Matewsky, John McKinnon and Stephen Simonelli invited Police Chief Steven Mazzie and Fire Chief (and default Harbor Master) Anthony Carli to speak to any “plans for the expected increase in vessels visiting the Encore Resort.”

“Historically that bridge is lifted when [boats go] under it,” said Councilor Matewsky  “I know that the Encore people have developed some kind of taxi boats to go under the bridge.”

“But what about the boats that cannot clear that bridge today?” he continued. “One boat will tie up traffic for 10 or 20 minutes.”

As with the parking situation, Mazzie said the management of waterway usage was “in the planning stages.”

He added that there would be “strict guidelines” and that, while they did anticipate a spike in use initially, the rush should eventually dissipate.

Councillor Matewsky disagreed.

“I believe this will be a problem, I really do,” he said. “I can see this really getting out of hand with the traffic backing up.”

Mazzie said that water vessels were subjected to maritime law and as such his department couldn’t do much to regulate boats using the bridge.

“The waterways will be fully open,” he said.

Carli added that if 10 boats were to approach the bridge at once, they would be “stacked.”

Councillors are currently consulting with the Boston Harbormaster as well as engineers on how they can improve traffic flow at the site. They voted to revisit the issue at the first Council meeting in May and hope that the City will have more concrete strategies to report at that time.

•Panhandling

The other concern raised on Monday night was how the City could address its already overwhelming panhandling situation. Councillor Marchese wants to crack down on the behavior ahead of the casino opening.

Currently, panhandling is legal in Everett, but Councillor Marchese would like to change that.

“I see it at every traffic stop, someone’s knocking on the window,” said Councillor Marchese. “They’re around Walgreens. I see it all day long, people being harassed.”

Other Councillors attested to the growing problem of panhandling in Everett.

“I don’t think I’ve been in 7-11 without someone asking me for change,” said Councillor Matewsky. “It’s intimidating.”

“A local breakfast place told me that they’ve had a large number of panhandlers,” said Councillor Michael McLaughlin. “It’s become a nuisance to business owners.”

Councillor Wayne Matewsky said he feared that panhandling would only increase when tourists flock to the area to use the casino. He cited as precedent Springfield’s MGM Casino, which he described as “swarming” with panhandlers.

“[They’re] all over the place, impersonating veterans and [disabled] people,” he said. “People find it very intimidating.”

Police Chief Mazzie was invited to speak on the matter along with the Assistant City Solicitor Keith Slattery.

While admitting it was a nuisance, Mazzie said there wasn’t much that could be done, since panhandling is protected as free speech under the First Amendment.

“Saying, ‘Do you have a buck?’ is not illegal,” he said. “If they’re not touching or hurting someone, there’s not a whole bunch we can do.”

Some possible alternative courses of action raised by councilors were increased police presence at popular panhandling sites, the creation of “No Solicitation” zones, the involvement of state senators and state representatives, and intervention by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

Councillor Marchese also proposed that law enforcement begin doing “background checks” on those who are seen panhandling to establish whether or not they are known to law enforcement.

“We don’t know who half these people are,” he said. “We had a recent stabbing. The last thing we need is something happening to someone coming to our casino.”

Mazzie conceded that there might be an increase in panhandling due to the casino, but assured councillors that his department was “familiar with most of the people on the streets that would engage in panhandling.”

“It’s a small group of people,” he said.

But Councillor Matewsky doubled down on his concern.

“This is going to be a whole new ballgame,” he said. “We only have a few months to go. We have to be prepared.”

The councilors did not raise the idea of a proposal that would make it illegal to donate to panhandlers as other cities have done, which would address the problem on the supply side.

Scout groups, athletic teams and other groups soliciting money for worthy causes do not fall under the category of panhandler and are required to get a permit from the city. You do not currently need a permit to panhandle.

The City Council meets the second and fourth Monday of every month.

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