Only one slots parlor has opened since casino gambling was legalized in Massachusetts in 2011, and voters are already being asked whether they want another. Question 1 on the Nov. 8 election ballot would open the door for an additional slots parlor to be licensed in Massachusetts. But not just anywhere: Read the language closely and you’ll note that the referendum deals with a very specific location and a very specific development proposal.
What would Question 1 do?
Allow the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to license a second slots parlor, expanding the mix of three casinos and one slots parlor allowed under the state’s 2011 gaming law.
Would a “yes” vote guarantee another casino?
Not at all. The vote would allow, but not compel, the Gaming Commission to license a second slots parlor. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission outlined strict criteria for siting casinos across the state to avoid saturating any one market, and developers based their proposals on those market expectations. Wynn Resorts, which is building a $2.1 billion casino in nearby Everett, opposes the referendum, saying it would allow a new competitor to circumvent the process.
Where would the slots parlor be?
Revere, most likely. The language of the ballot question is narrowly tailored to apply to the land near the Suffolk Downs race track. That mostly defunct horse racing facility was supposed to be revitalized by a casino proposal, but Suffolk Downs failed two separate attempts with casino partners to win a license. Suffolk Downs’ owners don’t support the new slots proposal, which came from a private developer who has negotiated options to buy properties around the track.
Don’t Revere residents get the final say on a casino?
Yes. Under the state’s gambling law, local residents get to weigh in on the benefits a casino would bring to their community. Voters in Revere already did so — twice – when they considered earlier proposals at Suffolk Downs. But one of those proposals also spanned East Boston and was rejected by voters there. The other was passed over by the Gaming Commission in favor of a casino competitor.
Meanwhile, Eugene McCain, the developer behind the new ballot initiative, gathered enough signatures to force an Oct. 18 nonbinding referendum for Revere voters to consider the slots parlor proposal even before the official ballot question – hoping to garner local support as a way to convince statewide voters to approve it. But Revere voters overwhelmingly rejected it.
Why are all Massachusetts voters being asked to vote on a casino that appears destined for Revere?
Good question. Statewide ballot questions cannot be specific to only one jurisdiction’s voters. However, both the Massachusetts attorney general and the Supreme Judicial Court, which rejected a challenge to the referendum, agreed that this one is not. (The SJC found that the gambling proposal is of statewide significance in terms of jobs and tax revenue, as well as a problem gambling.) There are, theoretically, Massachusetts locations besides Suffolk Downs that are at least 4 acres in size, within 1,500 feet of a race track and its facilities, where horse races have been held, which are not separated from the track by a highway or railway, as the ballot question requires. So, if passed, Question 1 could theoretically authorize a license for a slots parlor elsewhere, even if local support fails in Revere.Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert