The Associated Press

Ruling Thrusts Casinos Back Into Political Debate

BOSTON — With its decision to allow a casino repeal question on the November ballot, Massachusetts’ highest court has thrust one of the state’s most contentious issues onto the political front burner.

Virtually all the candidates for governor and attorney general say they support giving voters the final say on casinos. At the same time, candidates are deeply divided about the merits of casinos.

The decision put Democrat Attorney General Martha Coakley in the most politically awkward position of any candidate. The gubernatorial hopeful had argued as attorney general that the question was unconstitutional and shouldn’t be put on the ballot. Coakley on Tuesday said she was satisfied with the Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling.

“I made a call. That’s what my job is, to make a call. I’m always transparent about what I do. I knew we weren’t the final call on this,” Coakley said.

The ballot question would repeal the 2011 law allowing up to 3 casinos and a single slots parlor in Massachusetts. Coakley’s two Democratic challengers for governor – state Treasurer Steve Grossman and former Medicare administrator Don Berwick – both welcomed the decision to allow the question on the ballot, although they split on the repeal effort.

Grossman said casinos could potentially create 15,000 good-paying jobs. He said he’ll vote against repeal.

Berwick said casinos lead to gambling addiction, substance abuse, drunken driving, and other safety problems. He said he’s confident the repeal effort will succeed.

Republican candidate for governor Charlie Baker said he supports the court’s rebuke of what he called Coakley’s “poorly reasoned position.” He said he’d prefer a single casino to start, but opposes repeal. He also questioned whether Coakley’s decision “was shaped more by political considerations than legal merit.”

Fellow Republican candidate Mark Fisher said he favors repealing the casino law, arguing that state leaders should try to lure better jobs to Massachusetts.

The two Democratic candidates for attorney general also split on the casino question.

Warren Tolman said he’ll vote against repeal, noting that the law already gives local city and town voters final veto power over whether to host a casino.

Maura Healey says she strongly supports repealing the law.

“Every week, headlines show us what a mess this casino law has become – embroiled in conflict, controversy and potential corruption,” Healey said in a statement.

The sole Republican candidate for attorney general, John Miller, faulted Coakley for making “a political calculation that it was better to pass the decision to the SJC than it was to make this easy professional call.”

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  • X-Ray

    If the Casinos are voted down, do all the applicants get the fees back that they paid to the State? Can the legislature over ride the vote?

    • CircusMcGurkus

      This may be an open question if repeal passes. Those who wanted to bid for a casino were obligated to pay a $400k non-refundable fee to the state and the gaming commission was given authority to grant up to three licenses but was not obliged to grant any. Ergo, it seems that the non-refundable fee was a wager these guys were willing to lose for the opportunity to play and the state need not refund anything. In the event of a repeal, while litigation could ensue seeking a return of the funds, it would be very hard for any of the casinos to prove that it would have been selected without question for one of the licenses. Knowing that they paid for the right to bid and NOT with any guarantees I cannot really see a good argument if no one gets a license because the commission has the authority to deny licenses to everyone who bids even if the law stays intact.
      As to whether the Legislature can overturn the ballot initiative – probably not. There are a lot of state legislators who would like a form of rent control, others who wanted to keep greyhound racing and many more who never would have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana. The state constitution is pretty clear about who is the final arbiter and it’s the people, not their elected officials. Thanks, Mr. Adams!!!

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