Casino opponents said Tuesday that they had collected more than twice the signatures needed to bring a repeal measure before voters in November, if the state’s highest court rules in their favor.
Leaders of the campaign challenging the 2011 law allowing casinos said they had gathered more than 26,000 signatures, easily clearing the threshold for putting the repeal to a statewide vote. Organizers said the final push came at last weekend’s state Democratic convention, where they said more than half of delegates signed their support.
“The interest and excitement around this question is tremendous and only growing,” said repeal campaign manager Darek Barcikowski. “The one thing we kept hearing from voters is that this mess keeps getting worse and that the state just doesn’t need the downsides we know will come with casino gambling.”
The fate of the grass-roots campaign lies with the Supreme Judicial Court, which is expected to rule by early July whether the repeal effort can move forward.
Last year, Attorney General Martha Coakley ruled that the repeal measure was unconstitutional because it would illegally take the implied contract rights of casino applicants without compensation. Opponents appealed the decision.
Casino supporters voiced frustration Tuesday with the repeal effort, saying it dredges up an already settled debate and threatens to destroy an emerging industry.
“I think that opens up a whole can of worms,” said Chris Murphy, president of People for Plainridge, a group that supported a slot machine parlor in Plainville, a town near the Rhode Island border. “They’re opening up an extraordinary mess, all for a decision that’s already been made.”
Murphy dismissed the anticasino group as “a petulant little child stomping their foot” and predicted that voters would reject the repeal measure if it makes the ballot.
The casino law authorized three resort-style casinos and one slot machine parlor. In February, the state gambling commission awarded the slot machine license to the Penn National Gaming project in Plainville. Construction is underway.
“In the event this issue ends up on the ballot, we’re confident that the overwhelming majority of voters will support keeping our gaming dollars, and the thousands of good paying jobs that come with them, here in Massachusetts,” Eric Schippers, a spokesman for Penn National Gaming, said in a prepared statement.
Last week, the commission awarded the first casino license to MGM Resorts, which plans to build an $800 million development in downtown Springfield. The vote will become final if the Supreme Judicial Court rejects the repeal measure. While the repeal is pending, MGM will not have to pay an $85 million licensing fee.
Jeffrey Ciuffreda, president of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, said the casino is paramount to the city’s revitalization.
“It is frustrating to watch the repeal effort play out while Springfield is working hard to get back to work,” he said. “The gaming act provided our city an opportunity, and we seized that opportunity. They are delaying our future and should not be allowed a do-over.”
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