BEVERLY — Even as Salem resident Chip Tuttle touted the economic benefits of a proposed $1 billion resort casino at Suffolk Downs, where he is chief operating officer, he acknowledged yesterday that it is no jackpot for him to get to and from work in East Boston.
"I joke the Big Dig stopped at the airport," Tuttle told a gathering of the North Shore Alliance for Economic Development, a group of business leaders and local officials that advocates for projects and policies important to the region's economy.
"If there is indeed a casino, what does that mean for us?" asked Patricia Meservey, president of Salem State University, who led the discussion.
Tuttle's message was that road improvements will be vital to the success of a casino, if one is built at the 76-year-old racetrack. Casinos tend to affect the afternoon commute more than the morning one, he said.
Past traffic studies of 13 intersections in the vicinity of the track show that most are already at a failing level, Tuttle said.
"We realize there is a lot of work to do in that area," he said. "It is daunting, though."
Local leaders jammed a conference room at the Cummings Center yesterday to hear Tuttle talk about Suffolk Downs' desire to corral one of three casino licenses created by the recent passage of expanded gaming legislation.
If Suffolk Downs wins the casino license, it plans to invest $1 billion to create a destination resort that would be competitive with those in Connecticut, which already rakes in $1 billion in revenue from Massachusetts players, Tuttle said.
It would create thousands of jobs, said Tuttle, who has worked for Suffolk Downs for 20 years.
A casino plan at the 163-acre Suffolk Downs site would come with road improvements, he promised.
"We are committed to doing that," he said, though he was short on specifics about how already congested routes 1, 1A, 16 and 60 could be improved.
"We are confident we can make improvements to 1A that would improve the corridor very quickly," he said.
The problem is that once one road or rotary is fixed, the problem moves to an unimproved one, he said.
If the casino were built, it would probably subsidize the use of public transportation for its workers. Shifts would have to be arranged to provide minimal impact on traffic.
"The Blue Line does give us an advantage to getting people to the property," Tuttle said.
Discussion about the Blue Line and future casino access also raises the long-dormant issue of expansion of the line to downtown Lynn, state Sen. Tom McGee, D-Lynn, said in an interview.
There is no timetable for the project, as a state gaming commission that would issue the license has not yet been appointed, Tuttle said. It could take a year before a license is awarded.
The project would also face ballot initiatives in Revere and East Boston; if those are successful, the permitting and construction process would follow.
Tuttle said local vendors would benefit from the project, as the new gaming law requires the casino to do business with them. Under the bill, casinos would also provide money to the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling to mitigate the problem of compulsive gambling.
"That organization has been dealing with the social costs without a lot of resources to do it," Tuttle said.
A casino would also boost Suffolk Downs thoroughbred racing, which also provides jobs on the North Shore, he said.
At the meeting, Meservey thanked the alliance's former executive director, William Luster, who has since left the organization. Yesterday's gathering was organized by interim Executive Director Gary M. Barrett.
Meservey also pointed out that state Rep. Jerry Parisella, D-Beverly, was at the meeting, back after a nearly yearlong deployment in Iraq as a major in the Army Reserves. He spent most of his first year as a state representative serving in Iraq.
"We thank you for your service," Meservey said.
Parisella told the gathering that while in Iraq, he was able to phone Gregory Bialecki, the state secretary of housing and economic development, advocating for a proposed Route 128 overpass at Brimbal Avenue.
"(Bialecki) specifically mentioned this group," Parisella said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @DanverSalemNews.