Gaming Repeal Ballot Question Looms at SJC

March 5, 2014
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Just one week after fighting it out at the ballot box in Revere for the casino cause, pro-casino groups – including Revere elected officials – and anti-casino groups are preparing to do battle in the courtroom this May.

And if the anti-casino forces have it their way, it could mean yet another vote in Revere on the gaming issue this coming November.

Though it’s been simmering in the background for several months, the potential statewide ballot question to repeal expanded gaming – which could appear on the November ballot – has not gotten a lot of attention. What with referendums, job forums, new plans and even the feud between Suffolk Downs and Wynn Resorts, there hasn’t been a great deal of time to consider the pending ballot question.

Now, though, the time has come.

The statewide anti-casino group Repeal the Casino Deal proposed a ballot question last year that would completely repeal the expanded gaming law passed in 2011 – a law that authorizes the entire casino process that has played out in Revere, Everett and Springfield and the slot parlor license bestowed upon Plainville last week. While the group got more than enough signatures and had those signatures certified by the Secretary of the Commonwealth, Attorney General Martha Coakley rejected the ballot question – saying it would take away property rights.

Repeal the Casino Deal was able to get an injunction in Suffolk Superior Court to Coakley’s rejection, and the process moved to the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC).

That is where it stands today, and this May both sides will argue for and against the repeal going on the ballot.

Mayor Dan Rizzo said that he and a group of Revere voters have filed a motion to intervene in the litigation. That happened on Feb. 10, but the mayor was denied in his official capacity just last week. The same motion also came from voters in Springfield and that City’s mayor – who was also denied. Nevertheless, the Revere voters and Springfield voters remain parties in the case.

“The Revere voters, including myself in my individual capacity, are raising an issue that was not raised by the Attorney General or the other interveners,” said Rizzo this week. “Specifically, we argue that the Attorney General’s summary of the proposed referendum contains material errors and therefore the question should not appear on the state ballot. We are essentially saying that even if the SJC overturns the Attorney General and wants to place the question on the state ballot, material errors in the summary preclude the question from appearing on the ballot.”

The spokesman for Repeal the Casino Deal – John Ribeiro, of Winthrop and of No Eastie Casino – said the organization is made up of anti-casino groups from all over the state, including a powerful group from western Massachusetts.

He said they are ready for the fight and compared it to the greyhound racing repeal several years ago.

“It is on track to be heard in May,” he said. “That’s the last hurdle we have…We’re getting together a really good legal team with experience at the SJC – lots of appellate work. We feel we have a very good chance to be on the ballot in November…This really is in line with what happened with dog racing in the state. Obviously, Wonderland wanted to be a dog racing track and the voters decided against that and it closed up despite the fact that money was spent and they had a license to [race]…It’s the same court and the same argument except the AG is on the other team.”

Were the measure to go on the ballot, many observers on either side of the issue believe that the repeal would go through. While gaming sentiment remains positive in communities like Revere and Everett, it has seemed to be decidedly skewed in other parts of the state where numerous casino referendums have failed. However, public opinion could change after a casino license is awarded in late June. Many might be wary of repealing the law after significant revenues have been delivered to the state from successful applicants.

Even if it were to pass, some believe that the Legislature might not act on it. In off-the-record comments, some legislators have indicated that they might not comply with the ballot question if the repeal passes. There is precedence in that from 2000 when the voters rolled the income tax back to 5 percent, but the Legislature never quite got around to fully complying with that vote.

That said, Ribeiro said their side would not back down even if they lose.

“We’re not going away even if we’re not successful at the SJC,” he said. “It took several times for greyhound racing to be abolished. We’re building momentum.”

Mayor Rizzo said he just doesn’t see something

“We have a legislature,” he said. “That’s where these types of things are debated and either passed or not passed. So much time and effort and money have gone into this, repealing it now wouldn’t seem quite right.”

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