Casino advocates and opponents are gearing up for a fight they weren’t sure they would have to fight until Tuesday.
The state’s highest court on Tuesday ruled that a ballot question to repeal the state’s casino law can go to the voters in November. The ruling was challenged by members of the repeal effort who sued Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office after her office rejected their ballot initiative to overturn the 2011 expanded gaming law.
The attorney general’s office argued in part thatthe proposed ballot question and law could not be certified because it takes private property, in the form of an implied contract between the gaming commission and the applicant, without any compensation.
“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,” the justices wrote in their ruling.
Opponents of casinos praised the ruling and set their sights on the voters.
“While this ruling marks a huge hurdle now cleared, it’s also the firing of the starting gun in this incredibly important campaign,” John Ribeiro, the casino repeal chairman, said in a statement. “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.”
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has already awarded the slots parlor license to Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville and the Western Massachusetts license to MGM Springfield. In a statement, the commission said it will continue with its mission despite an “atmosphere of uncertainty.”
“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,” commission Chairman Steve Crosby said in a statement.
Plainridge remained confident that their $225 million plan will be able to go forward.
“While we are disappointed by [Tuesday’s] decision, we remain confident that Massachusetts voters will want to protect the thousands of new jobs and the hundreds of millions in annual tax revenues that our new industry will generate, in addition to recapturing over $1 billion being wagered by Mass residents in neighboring states each year,”Penn National Gaming Senior Vice President Eric Schippers said in a statement. “Our fight to protect jobs and preserve this economic development opportunity for Massachusetts begins [Tuesday]. Construction on the Plainridge Park Casino remains full steam ahead and we continue to anticipate a June 2015 opening.”
Follow Michael Naughton on Twitter @metrobosmike.