Repeal the Casino Deal won a major victory last month when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled the group’s initiative that would repeal the state’s 2011 gaming expansion law can be placed on the November ballot.
Recent polling indicates that the pro-repeal forces have a good shot, although most respondents still favor the law. A Boston Globe poll shows that 52 percent would vote to retain the casino law, with 41 percent favoring repeal. This despite 52 percent saying they don’t have confidence in the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, compared to 45 percent who do.
Another poll, commissioned by the Mohegan Sun, showed support for the repeal at 35 percent, with 58 percent opposing it.
The law authorizes three casino resorts in three separate regions of the state, and one slot parlor.
Repeal Chairman John Ribeiro declared that his group intends to make a statewide effort after pursuing a town-by-town strategy. “A lot of people had us written off for dead,” he said, “but now they see that common sense has prevailed—that people should have a vote on this. People will take a second look.”
Ribeiro started as an activist to defeat the casino that had been proposed for Boston. His group won that electoral victory in November.
Gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Martha Coakley, who had initially ruled that the initiative was unconstitutional, was rebuked by the high court’s unanimous decision.
Coakley didn’t criticize the ruling, simply calling it “thoughtful,” but defended her own ruling. “Our determination on this question was never going to be the final word,” she said.
The developers of the proposed $800 million casino resort in Springfield, MGM Resorts, and of the slot parlor, already under construction at the Plainridge racetrack in Plainville, indicated that they plan a robust campaign to preserve the law. Penn National Gaming, which is building the Plainville slot parlor, announced that it plans to go “full-speed ahead” on the construction efforts.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who was a strong proponent of the 2011 casino law, said Bay State legislators and officials responsible for the budget face “tough decisions” if the voters repeal it. The speaker said the new fiscal year assumes $54 million from casino licensing fees.
Senator Marc Pacheco, a member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, and one of the principal authors of the 2011 law, added, “The whole idea of being able to fund the budget into the future was one of the motivating factors of the legislature adopting an expanded gaming bill in the commonwealth.”
While taking no position, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission said casinos that paid license fees would not be able to recoup them if the referendum is successful because there is no mechanism in place to return the fees. Penn National has already paid $25 million, while MGM has put off paying the $85 million due when it won the license for western Massachusetts.