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BOSTON (AP) - Casino gambling foes were ecstatic after residents of East Boston and Palmer rejected proposals for resort casinos in their communities, votes that could dramatically alter the future landscape for gambling in Massachusetts.
Voters in the East Boston neighborhood on Tuesday said no to a proposed $1 billion casino at the Suffolk Downs thoroughbred race track by a 56-44 percent margin, according to unofficial returns. The project won the approval of Revere residents in a separate referendum, but the state's 2011 casino law required favorable votes in both communities before Suffolk Downs can apply for a license from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
In Palmer Tuesday, Mohegan Sun's proposed $1 billion casino was defeated by a margin of less than 100 votes out of about 5,200 cast in the small western Massachusetts town, unofficial returns showed.
"Voters today struck a decisive blow to the casino culture, a clear signal that the Commonwealth believes there are better economic options than casinos and slot barns," said John Ribeiro, head of a statewide group that is seeking to repeal the law which allows for up to three regional resort casinos and one slots parlor.
Both Mohegan Sun and Suffolk Downs held out faint hopes that their respective proposals could still be salvaged.
Mitchell Etess, chief executive of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, said the company would ask for a recount, citing what he said were technical problems with a voting machine in one of the town's precincts.
"We have great respect for the process and all of the voters in Palmer, and we believe this request is consistent with ensuring that the process of counting ballots was accurate," Etess said.
Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer of Suffolk Downs, which straddles East Boston and Revere, said the track would "reassess" its options after Tuesday's results.
Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo said he would ask Suffolk Downs to reshape its plan so that the entire casino would be located within his city. It was not immediately clear if such a change could pass muster with the gaming commission, however.
Questions have been raised as to whether the 78-year-old track can remain viable without a casino component.
Opponents of the casino proposals were elated but also surprised by their success Tuesday, especially after being heavily outspent by the casino developers in the run-up to the referendums.
"I came into the day today bracing myself and talking myself into being content with a modest loss," said Celeste Myers, co-chairwoman of the group No Eastie Casino. "I had no reason to expect that we would realize a win, much less a win of this nature. I'm just completely blown away."
Myers said she would ask Boston Mayor-elect Martin Walsh to intervene if Suffolk Downs attempted to circumvent the East Boston vote by relocating the proposed casino to Revere.
Palmer resident Bill Hayden said he and other opponents were worried a casino would spoil the town's rural character by increasing traffic and crime.
"It was going to change our town forever," he said.
Supporters of the Mohegan Sun proposal argued it would be a catalyst for an economic revival in a town where manufacturing jobs have vanished in recent decades.
If the vote in Palmer stands, it would leave MGM Resorts International as the only company still in the hunt for the sole western Massachusetts resort casino license allowed under the law.
Voters in Springfield in July approved MGM's proposal for a casino in the city's downtown, though the gaming commission has yet to complete a background check on the company.
In the eastern region, Las Vegas casino developer Steve Wynn received overwhelming support from Everett voters in June for his proposed resort casino along the Mystic River. Wynn is also awaiting results of the commission's background check.
Foxwoods, which like Mohegan Sun operates a casino in Connecticut, also hopes to vie for the eastern license if voters in Milford approve a referendum scheduled for Nov. 19.