A citizens’ anti-gambling initiative has been shot down by the State’s Attorney General

While the state of Massachusetts is gearing up for rapid expansion of gambling in the state, not everyone has been excited about the move. That’s why some anti-gambling activists there have created a petition in an effort to force a statewide vote on whether or not the casino projects would be able to move forward.

Those who are against the new casinos were able to gather enough signatures to send the ballot question forward to the attorney general’s office. But unfortunately for them, the state solicitor but a stop to the move, saying that the ballot question would not be legal under the state’s ballot initiative process.

Constitutional Provisions Preclude Ballot Question

Under the current state Constitution, the ballot initiative process is covered by Article 48. That article not only outlines the process for getting a question on the ballot, but also establishes what can and cannot be included in such questions. One of the rules for proposals says that they cannot interfere with an entity’s “right to receive compensation for private property appropriated to public use”.

According to state solicitor Peter Sacks, if the question were to be approved by the public, thus ending the casino deals immediately, it would take the casino developers’ contract rights away without any compensation. It would also “impair the implied contracts” between the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and those developers, who have already paid millions in application fees to the state.

The action came as a surprise to those who had put the petition together, with the man who filed the proposal saying that he was “disappointed” in the ruling.

“We fully expected to be certified today,” said John F. Ribeiro, chairman of the Committee to Repeal the Casino Deal. “This is something that should be voted on by the people of the Commonwealth.”

Ribeiro said that he is now considering his options, including a possible appeal to Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court.

State Expanding Gambling

Massachusetts approved a plan to expand gambling in the state in order to help make it more competitive in the quickly growing casino industry of the northeastern United States. The law would allow for three full-scale resort casinos in Massachusetts, with one license being allowed in each of three regions. A fourth slots-only facility would also be allowed at an existing horse-racing track. Local towns and cities would have to reach agreements with casino developers in order to allow projects to go forward.

The process has already been a contentious one. Fierce battles have taken place over the potential to develop casinos in many cities and towns throughout the state, including in Boston, where candidates running for the mayoral slot have had to take sides on not only if they support building a casino in the city, but also on how the city should vote on the project.

The anti-gambling initiative wasn’t the only ballot measure submitted for the 2014 ballot. A total of 28 proposals were certified, including three constitutional amendments that won’t be on the ballot until at least 2016. The casino ban was among five proposals that were denied for various reasons.

“Ballot initiatives allow citizens across the Commonwealth to directly engage in the process of democracy,” said Attorney General Martha Coakley. “Our decisions do not reflect any opinion on the merits or values of the petitions, but simply that the constitutional requirements were [or were not] met.”