Casino ballot question heads to high court

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The Supreme Judicial Court will hear arguments Monday from casino supporters and opponents. The 22News I-Team discovered why the courts decision will have nothing to do with the pros and cons of casinos.

Their decision will be solely based on whether the state should have a right to vote on the casino law.

Massachusetts created a casino law in 2011, close to three years later there’s a growing effort to repeal the law. By early July we should know if the law will stand as is or if voters will decide the fate of casinos in November.

“The issue is we’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in application fees, we’ve spent 2-3 years working on these projects we’ve got contracts with host community agreements and to unravel it all at this point would be a taking,” said MGM Springfield President Mike Mathis.

The state’s casino law did allow for local choice. Of the 10 referendums held in Massachusetts communities, six voted yes (Springfield, Revere, Everett, Plainville, Leominster and Raynham), while four rejected casinos (Palmer, West Springfield, East Boston and Milford).

West Springfield’s Alan Cabot is fighting to keep casinos out of Massachusetts. He supports “Repeal the Casino Deal.”

(Why was that not good enough?)

“For one as we said before this is going to affect everyone. It doesn’t matter if you can see the building where people are gambling everyone is going to be affected”, said Cabot.

If you add up all the votes in the ten casino referendums across the state.  56.5% (47,936) of the voters have said YES to casinos. 43.5% (36,832) have said NO.

“We feel confident as more and more people learn about the negatives associated with problem gambling more and more people would want to vote in that direction,” said Cabot.

MGM is just about a lock to win a gaming license, but with the repeal effort, it’s unclear if a casino will ever be built in Springfield’s South End.

Governor Deval Patrick was a big reason casinos are in Massachusetts in the first place we spoke to him on Thursday.

(Governor, a big SJC hearing on Monday, you were a big part of creating this casino law, what’s your stance on the repeal effort and why haven’t you been more vocal in supporting the law you helped create.)

“First of all, I think the casino law is a helpful thing, I think the commission has been doing a great job in working it through, I have other issues that I’m working on now and the SJC will do what it has to do and the people will vote, I think the people have supported the expansion of gaming in a thoughtful and limited way as this bill has provided and I hope that they will continue to do so,” said Governor Patrick.

(You have a broad legal background, do you think we’re going to have a referendum on this in November?)

“I don’t have a point of view on that,” said Governor Patrick.

If a casino question does go on a ballot, expect MGM to team up with other casino companies for a massive campaign.

“Well obviously we hope we don’t end up getting there, we believe the arguments in front of the SJC are very strong and we’re very hopeful that the SJC supports the attorney general’s position and rejects the petition, that said if it moves onto the ballot our industry will certainly, I would think would work together on this issue”, said Mathis.

(Is this a win for your group if it gets on a referendum or is it only a win if it gets overturned?)

“We believe it’s going to be a win, we’ve got a lot of work to do”, said Cabot.

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