Candidates for governor applauded the decision by Massachusetts’ highest court to allow a question on repealing the state’s casino law to appear on the November ballot. Several also took swipes at Attorney General Martha Coakley for rejecting the anticasino ballot question in the first place.
Coakley, who is also a candidate for governor, concluded that the repeal question should not appear on the ballot because it would “impair” implied casino contracts without compensation; her ruling was overturned Tuesday by the Supreme Judicial Court.
Republican candidate Charlie Baker called Coakley’s conclusion “poorly reasoned,” and Evan Falchuk, an independent candidate, called her argument “extremely flimsy.”
Coakley’s fellow Democratic candidates, State Treasurer Steve Grossman and Don Berwick, said they would not second-guess her decision because they were not lawyers. But Berwick said Coakley could be more forthright with voters about where she stands on the casino issue as a candidate.
“She’s not forbidden from taking a position, and she has not,” he said.
Coakley said Tuesday that she personally would vote against the ballot question “at this stage,” but her opponents say she vacillates on the issue while on the stump.
On Tuesday, she said she was “pleased” with the SJC ruling, even though it concluded she had made a mistake by keeping the question off the ballot.
“I am pleased that they have made a decision that now lets this to go to the ballot,” she said at a news conference.
Coakley, who maintains a commanding lead over her opponents in recent polls, has said her office knew its decision would be appealed to the SJC “no matter what we ruled” and that she would be satsified with the outcome either way. Her opponents have attacked that position, saying it demonstrates a lack of leadership.
“We need leaders that are willing to be decisive,” said Jeff McCormick, an independent candidate. “The attorney general wanted to not take a stand.”
Berwick and McCormick said casinos have no place in Massachusetts and would vote to repeal the law. Baker, Grossman, and Falchuk said they opposed repealing the legislation.
Baker said repealing the law would be disruptive and unfair to communities that voted for casinos, and he reiterated calls for a cautious start to gaming, beginning with one casino instead of three.
McCormick said “without question” that he would be voting to repeal the casino law.
“I do not believe that gaming should be seen as an economic development panacea,” he said. “They can have incredible unintended consequences; a third of the revenue is often coming in from addicted gamblers. There are even health considerations. I would rather develop quality long-term jobs and businesses that are sustainable.”
Falchuk said the casino issue is another example of Coakley putting politics above public service.
“This is one of a series of things that the attorney general has done that are political in nature that are dealing with important issues,” he said. “It’s like what we’ve seen with the approval of Partners to buy South Shore Hospital.”
The question to repeal the casino law should have been on the ballot to begin with, he said, adding that he plans to vote against the repeal.
“We created the law,” Falchuk said. “Cities and towns that wanted casinos, voted to get them; and cities and towns that didn’t, voted against them. We need to be able to move forward.”
Berwick, the only Democratic candidate who opposes casinos outright, said he was delighted with the court’s ruling.
“My position has been from the very start of this campaign casinos are a bad idea for the commonwealth and that doesn’t change,” he said.
“Where they come, small businesses suffer — the evidence is that they destroy one local job per slot machine,” he said in a statement. “They bring gambling addiction, increased substance abuse, DUI risks, and other safety problems into our communities.”
Grossman said he would vote against repeal.
“It’s up to the people to decide what they want and what they don’t want, and that’s the way it should be,” he said. “If it is repealed, we will have to deal with the budgetary implications.”
State tax collectors expect about $425 million to flow into state coffers from casinos once they are all up and running. And casinos are expected to help create thousands of permanent jobs, something he sees as key during a time when almost 200,000 people in the state are unemployed.
“For me,” he said, “15,000 good paying jobs is an important engine in keeping people working.”