While the Massachusetts Gaming Commission continues conducting reviews in preparation of licensing casinos and a slot parlor, a group of casino opponents has taken steps to repeal the state’s 2011 expanded gambling law.
“Most citizens believe state government should not be partnering with powerful gambling interests to promote casino gambling in our communities,” Repeal the Casino Deal chairman John Ribeiro of Winthrop said in a statement. “Government’s promotion of casinos represents the wrong direction for Massachusetts. It’s a bad deal for citizens.”
The group filed a petition Wednesday with the attorney general to put a question on the 2014 state ballot to block casino gambling. The question would essentially gut the 2011 law, making the types of gambling relied on by casinos to lure customers and make money illegal in Massachusetts.
“I think the calculations have changed and they’ve actually tipped in our favor because when you look around the state and the number of people who will be impacted, you now have more people aware of the problems associated with casino gambling,” Ribeiro told the State House News Service.
East Taunton casino opponent Michelle Littlefield said repeal the Casino Deal had approached the Taunton casino opposition group Preserve Taunton’s Future. The Taunton group, she said, hasn’t signed on but could in the future.
“Because our battle is very, very different, we haven’t gotten as involved in Repeal the Deal,” Littlefield said. “Our battle, being against a tribal casino, is at the federal level, so that’s where we’ve been focused. We haven’t had much of an opportunity to get involved and haven’t had time to do the research.”
The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is seeking to build a casino in East Taunton through a federal channel outside of the state commercial casino licensing process.
The 2011 state expanded gambling law allows up to three commercial casinos and one slot parlor in Massachusetts. Raynham Park is among the entities bidding for the slot license.
Ribeiro and casino opponents have tried to block casinos from opening in Massachusetts in the past, pursuing a referendum initiative in 2011 that would have allowed voters to repeal the expanded gaming law during the 2012 elections. Attorney General Martha Coakley ruled that question ineligible for the ballot because appropriations are not subject to the citizen petition process, and the gaming law included monetary appropriations. This year, opponents are pursuing a different track.
“The last time we knew it was a long shot because of the poison pills the Legislature put into the bill,” Ribeiro said. “This time we don’t face any such hurdles.”
Littlefield said local casino opposition groups across the state often collaborate on initiatives and share resources. She didn’t rule out lending her support to the ballot petition in the future.
“I wish them well,” she said. “I think casinos coming into any community are disruptive and have a lot of negative impacts that need to be looked at. People need to have the opportunity to speak. ... The bottom line for me is whether you support a casino or don’t support a casino, the people should have a voice.
The petition filed Wednesday was signed by Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, former state Sen. Susan Tucker, Massachusetts Family Institute President Kris Mineau, Kathleen Conley Norbut, the president of United to Stop Slots, and others.