The house always wins, but not this State House.
The casino law was one of Beacon Hill’s biggest bets, and it could be a complete bust. Tuesday’s Supreme Judicial Court ruling will allow voters in November to decide whether to repeal the gaming law. Those who felt blindsided by casinos — despite years of public debate and headlines — have another chance to weigh in on whether they want a thousand slot machines and blackjack tables to bloom.
It will be messy, but that’s the Massachusetts way.
The SJC opinion, like any good game of chance, produced plenty of winners and losers. Here’s a look at who has a stack of chips to cash in and who goes home with empty pockets.
Marty Walsh At first, it seemed as if the rookie mayor didn’t know what he was doing, bluffing his way through the casino process and insisting Boston be considered a host city. It was hard to take him seriously because no one was proposing to build a gambling palace within Boston’s borders.
Walsh, who even threatened to sue the gaming commission, has said his fight was never about money. It was about the neighborhoods — Charlestown and East Boston. If a casino was going to be built in their back yards, he said, the residents should be able to vote on it.
He rolled the dice and won. Talk about beginner’s luck.
Twin River, Foxwoods, and Mohegan Sun That big exhale you just heard blew in from Rhode Island and Connecticut. Massachusetts patrons keep the slot machines and cash registers ringing at Twin River and the two Indian casinos in Connecticut.
If the Massachusetts law is repealed, Twin River could be biggest winner of all because both Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods have also been trying to expand here. Maybe the Rhode Island casino should start bankrolling the repeal effort — complete with free drinks at the polling stations.
Scott Harshbarger Our former attorney general has been the muscle behind Repeal the Casino Deal , the group that appealed to the SJC to put the casino question on the ballot. Harshbarger started worrying about casinos two decades ago when he was AG and kept close tabs on the Indian casinos taking root in Connecticut. He saw his job as being about protecting consumers and figured it was only a matter of time before gambling would be legalized here.
“The strategy of the industry is to get in,” he said in a phone interview. “Once in, it’s hard to move them out.”
Media Expect the casino industry, flush with cash, to spend millions on a campaign to keep gaming on the books. You are forewarned: TV and radio, the Internet, and newspapers will be bombarded with feel-good ads about how casinos create jobs and save lives.
Martha Coakley The ever-so-cautious Democratic gubernatorial candidate stuck her neck out as attorney general and got her head chopped off by the state’s highest court. The SJC in a 55-page unanimous decision concluded that the “Attorney General erred” and should have certified the anti-casino petition.
No doubt Charlie Baker and Don Berwick will find a way to use this against her in a tight race for governor. Berwick, the health care reformer and staunch gambling opponent, could get a lift out of this.
Could this also be the fateful turning point in an otherwise sleepy gubernatorial race?
Deval Patrick Our governor was out of town when the SJC decision came down. He was in sunny San Diego at the BIO International Convention. As luck would have it, so was my colleague, Priyanka Dayal McCluskey, who tracked him down.
“It is what it is,” Patrick said, doing his best impersonation of Bill Belichick. “I respect the people’s voice.”
As for himself, “I’m going to vote for keeping expanded gaming on the books.”
Now, even though he pushed for this law, don’t expect our Teflon Governor to show up in any ads telling us to support it.
Springfield Earlier this month, Lady Luck finally found this struggling Western Massachusetts community. The gaming commission awarded MGM the state’s first resort license to build an $800 million Las Vegas-style casino there.
MGM spent three years and $40 million building its case. Even without a shovel in the ground, Springfield merchants, from restaurants to hotels, benefited from all the activity. If the repeal succeeds, the city loses not only a casino, but hope for a brighter future.