As the cold wind whipped across the Northgate parking lot Tuesday morning, several senior citizens waited anxiously for a charter bus to arrive, the same storied bus that takes them to Connecticut where they spend a good amount of money on casino gaming every year.
Bus trips have been a continuous talking point for years as legislators and local gaming advocates have argued for a Massachusetts casino. Estimates are that hundreds of millions of dollars – especially from the senior population – leaves the state every year and is spent in Connecticut at either Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun.
On Tuesday, the Patriot Seniors organization had put together a group to head to Mohegan Sun, as they have done once a month for several years.
About 50 seniors waited in their cars to escape the cold.
Many of them said they have been taking the charter buses to Connecticut for years. They like to gamble there, but they also like the social aspect of the day-trips. Yet, many wonder what would happen to the bus trips if there were a casino in Revere.
Would the buses become useless, as many would certainly expect? Or – as a good number of seniors in other communities have said – would people still prefer to get out of town for a day, to go on a longer trip to a casino that’s not in their backyard?
On Tuesday, after an informal poll by the Journal of those gathered at the scene, one thing was for certain: charter buses to Connecticut casinos would no longer exist in Revere if there were a casino at Suffolk Downs.
“Of course I would prefer the casino to a bus ride like this,” said Mary Christopher of Revere. “I live on Revere Street and I could just walk to the casino. I wouldn’t need any kind of bus. No, I don’t think I would prefer this three-hour drive. I think it would be stupid to get on a bus if we get a casino.”
Added Rose Mirasolo of Revere, “I really don’t like the long bus ride. I could just jump in my car and go over there. I’d rather the casino be right here. Not only all that; I think it will do a lot for our community. Really, if I wanted to enjoy a ride, I would just get in my car a take a leisurely drive.”
Other seniors standing by said they understood the consequences of having a gaming facility near their homes, and they also said that the bus ride can, at times, be dangerous.
“I worked at Wonderland for years and I know what that’s all about,” said Barbara Moschella, a lifelong Revere resident. “I was one of the employees locked out when Wonderland closed suddenly. So, I would love to see a casino at Suffolk Downs. I just don’t like going by this bus because it’s dangerous. We see so many accidents, but there’s no other choice.”
Added her friend Victoria Lentini, another lifelong Revere resident, “Some of these bus drivers they send are terrible and they scare us. They just go so fast. I nearly had to call 9-1-1 on them one time. I want it at Suffolk Downs.”
The resounding opinion was that seniors had their concerns about Suffolk Downs getting a casino, and about having a casino so close to their homes, but about 80 percent said they would enjoy the convenience of not having to go all the way to Connecticut.
“I have my concerns, of course, mostly with traffic and insurance rates, but I certainly would prefer something in my backyard so I don’t have to get on a bus anymore,” said Revere’s Lorraine Repoli.
Not everyone was so sold out, though, on a casino that would be so close.
Anne Osgood – who helps put the bus trips together for the Patriot Seniors – said she would like to have a casino that was in Massachusetts, but not necessarily in Revere.
“I would prefer having it closer than Connecticut, but not necessarily in my backyard because of the traffic,” she said. “I have to say I don’t like the four-hour bus trip. That would be a pro, but a casino so close could be dangerous. Honestly, I would prefer a casino in Foxborough. I wouldn’t mind a one-hour drive, but I don’t like the current four-hour drive to Connecticut.”
One woman, who chose to remain anonymous, said she likes the casino in Connecticut and likes taking the bus occasionally for a day-trip.
“I do like the bus ride,” she said. “I go about once or twice a year and I like the ride down there. I definitely don’t want a casino here.”
As the hour approached 9 a.m. on Tuesday, the trip began to fall apart. The bus wasn’t there yet. Those going on the trip began to get a little antsy. The bus company wasn’t answering their phones, and no one knew what was going on.
Finally, the tour bus operator called and said the bus had broken down and he couldn’t get another one.
The trip wasn’t going to happen.
Looks of anticipation turned into deep disgust.
Organizers scrambled to force the hand of the bus company to send them a backup within the hour, which seemed to be the final outcome.
Yet, the hassle of it all left just about everyone wishing that there was a casino down the road; that they could just load up in a half-dozen of their cars and drive 10 minutes.
“This is the problem with the bus,” said Rose Napolitano, president of the Patriot Seniors. “It’s always late and then if there’s a problem like this we can’t go. No one likes sitting out here waiting in the cold and wondering if the bus is going to show up or not. Now, if we don’t get a bus here soon, everyone is going to go home disappointed and we’re going to have to refund their money. I think this pretty much tells the story about the buses.”