SJC Allows Casino Question on State Ballot

Friday, June 27, 2014
By John Lynds

Winthrop voters will finally have a vote on whether or not a casino comes to neighboring Revere or the state for that matter.

The statewide group that is trying to repeal the Massachusetts expanded gaming legislation scored a major victory Tuesday when the Supreme Judicial Court  (SJC) ruled in favor of allowing a casino repeal referendum question on November’s statewide ballot. The ruling will allow people in Massachusetts the right to vote on repealing the casino law and signaling the start of a new stage in the casino repeal campaign.

“While this ruling marks a huge hurdle now cleared, it’s also the firing of the starting gun in this incredibly important campaign,” casino repeal chairman John Ribeiro said. “We know Massachusetts can do better than this casino mess. We’re elated at the opportunity to continue sharing the truth about casinos and the harm they would bring to our communities. Now’s the time to dig our heels in and spread our message.”

Winthrop recently signed a $2 million surrounding community agreement with Mohegan Sun as mitigation to potential casino impacts the Mohegan Sun development in Revere may cause.

Mohegan Sun’s Mitchell Etess said, “We believe we have the best plan to bring thousands of jobs, world class entertainment, local economic development, and increased tourism to the region and that is our focus right now. We will also join the chorus of others making the case to voters on why this law is good for workers, good for the economy, and good for the Commonwealth.”

Winthrop Council President Peter Gill said that he heard from several local Winthrop voters that they would have liked to see residents here vote on the casino issue.

“I think it’s a good opportunity for voters to be heard,” said Gill. “This will voters here to determine whether or not they want a casino in Massachusetts because this doesn’t only affect Suffolk Downs, it affects the whole state.”

The ruling, written by new Chief Justice Ralph Gants, came just before public hearings in Revere and Everett this week on proposals by both Greater Boston casino applicants – Wynn and Mohegan Sun. The question would have the potential to require the Legislature to repeal the Expanded Gaming Act of 2011 – making casinos, slot parlors and greyhound simulcasting illegal once again.

“We conclude that the Attorney General erred in declining to certify, and grant the requested relief so that the initiative may be decided by the voters at the November election,” read the 47-page decision. “In sum, the abolition of casino and slots parlor gambling, and of pari-mutuel wagering on simulcast greyhound racing, whether by the voters or the Legislature, would not constitute a taking of private property without compensation from those licensed to engage in such gambling operations, and therefore an initiative calling for their abolition is not inconsistent with the right to receive compensation for private property appropriated to public use. Instead, the possibility of abolition is one of the many foreseeable risks that casinos, slots parlors, and their investors take when they choose to apply for a license and invest in a casino or slots parlor. We acknowledge the arguments made by the interveners…that an initiative petition would put at risk the substantial investment that has been made by the applicants in applying for the casino licenses and by the slots parlor licensee in obtaining its license, including the license fee of $25 million. But…substantial economic loss arising from a change in law under the core police power does not constitute a taking of private property that triggers an entitlement to fair compensation.”

In a release to the Winthrop Transcript the Repeal the Casino Deal group said with the Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling made in their favor, and all of the signature to solidify a spot on the ballot submitted, activists will now turn their attention toward voters, campaigning for their vote to repeal the casino law.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC), which would become extinct if voters approve the repeal question, said it respected the decision and would continue on with its business in the interim.

“The MGC respects the decision of the SJC to allow the citizens of the Commonwealth to vote on the repeal of expanded gaming in November,” read the statement. “As the Commission has demonstrated in the past, we have the flexibility to achieve progress in the licensing and regulatory process even in an atmosphere of uncertainty and we will continue to do so. Although the Commission has not taken a position on the repeal; we are committed to implementing the law as it currently exists in a manner that is participatory, transparent and fair.”

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