Supreme Court: Casino Repeal Question Can Go on Ballot

The state's highest court ruled that the Attorney General 'erred' in her call to keep the vote out of the people's hands.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled Tuesday that a group rallying against developers building gambling facilities in Massachusetts can place a question on the 2014 ballot that would repeal the state’s current casino laws if passed.

After a unanimous decision, the state’s highest court said voters would have a chance to decide whether to do away with the gambling law come November. The decision was made after a group of constituents were denied permission to place a question about a possible repeal on this year’s ballot, despite the fact that they met the necessary requirements. Attorney General Martha Coakley had originally rejected the proposal, and deemed the referendum unconstitutional.

The group countered Coakley’s decision and sought a court order requiring the Attorney General to certify their proposed petition. The court sided with the plaintiffs in the case. “We conclude that the Attorney General erred in declining to certify, and grant the requested relief so that the initiative may be decided by the voters at the November election,” the court wrote in its lengthy decision released Tuesday. “Under the core police power, the legislature and, through the initiative, the voters of Massachusetts may choose to abolish casino and slots parlor gambling and parimutuel wagering on simulcast greyhound races, and doing so would not constitute a taking of property without compensation.”

The state enacted the Expanded Gaming Act in 2011, which created the Gaming Commission and allowed for three casino licenses and one slots gambling license in Massachusetts. The commision is in the process of awarding the licenses, but has already given a license for a slots parlor to be built in Plainville.

Coakley issued a statement immediately following the court’s ruling saying she was “pleased” that the SJC ruled on the matter. “It is now an issue that will be decided by the voters in the fall,” she said. “My office had conducted a legal review of this ballot question, but knew it would ultimately be decided by the court. My office worked cooperatively with both parties to put this issue before the court. Now, with today’s decision, voters will have the final say.”

She said in a later interview that her office is moving forward and certifying the ballot question today.

Anti-casino backers were excited about the decision. In a statement on their Facebook page, members of Repeal the Casino Deal thanked supporters for their continued efforts to gather signatures and get the ballot question in front of registered voters. “We look forward to receiving your continued support as we push forward with this campaign,” they wrote.

On June 18, the group announced that they were filing more than 26,000 signatures—double that of what’s required by law—in support of the repeal petition making its way to the ballot. They said they had the support of elected leaders from cities and towns all over the state.

John Ribeiro, chairman of Repeal the Casino Deal, said in a statement that this decision starts a race for an important campaign between pro and anti-casino backers. “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,” he said.

You can read the court’s decision in its entirety here.