Massachusetts’ highest court ruled today that a question asking voters to repeal the state’s casino law can go on the November ballot. It sets up what promises to be a hard-fought campaign to decide the fate of the fledgling gambling industry in Massachusetts.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, in a unanimous decision announced Tuesday, said Attorney General Martha Coakley erred when she blocked from the election ballot a question asking voters to repeal the 2011 state law that legalized Las Vegas-style gambling. The court ordered the question certified to appear on the November ballot.
Steve Abdow, a western Massachusetts leader of the anti-casino campaign “Repeal the Casino Deal,” said he was elated by the court’s decision.
" This the right thing to do. It passes the common sense test that people should be allowed to vote on it."
Casino opponents collected more than 70,000 signatures last year in the first step toward getting the question on the ballot. The campaign announced last week it had secured more than double the required 11,485 signatures required to reserve a place on the ballot. Tuesday’s court ruling was the final hurdle.
Abdow said repeal campaign organizers have been proceeding for weeks as if the question would be on the ballot. They’ve hired a professional campaign manager, a public relations firm, and a political fundraiser.
" We'll have sufficient support from inside the staet and potentially from outside the state to mount a competitive campaign to win the hearts and minds of the voters."
Casino opponents have scored successes defeating projects at the local ballot boxes in West Springfield, Palmer, Milford, and East Boston. Recent statewide polls show voters are evenly divided on whether Massachusetts should have casinos.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, who worked for two-and-a-half years to bring a casino development to Springfield, said he is prepared to campaign along with organized labor and other casino supporters to defeat the referendum.
" People are hungry to work. They want to work. Education and jobs putting money in people's wallets is key. If you are able to do that you are able to move your city forward. We're going to base it on the facts."
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission on June 13th assigned the state’s first resort casino license to MGM for an $800 million project in downtown Springfield. But the ruling means construction won’t begin until after the November 4th balloting, if at all.
" We've been able to get over every hurdle. This is another hurdle. We will attack it being prepared and being optimistic," said Sarno.
MGM Springfield President Mike Mathis, in a statement, said his company is prepared for a statewide campaign to “educate voters on the enormous economic benefits that would be lost to the taxpayers of the Commonwealth in a repeal.”
Springfield-based political consultant Anthony Cignoli, who was once part of an effort to bring a casino to western Massachusetts, said the referendum campaign will draw national attention.
" This is going to be a multi-multi-million dollar campaign by the proponents and opponents."
A spokesperson for the gaming commission said work would continue on sitting a greater Boston casino and soliciting bids for a license for a casino in southeastern Massachusetts.
Penn National Gaming said construction would continue on a slots machine parlor at the harness racetrack in Plainville. Penn was awarded the state’s lone slots parlor license in February. Penn vowed then to fight the repeal question if it made it to the ballot.