SJC approves ballot question on a second slots parlor in Mass.

Gamblers played slot machine games at the Twin River Casino in Lincoln, R.I.
Gamblers played slot machine games at the Twin River Casino in Lincoln, R.I. Keith Bedford/Globe Staff/File/Globe Staff

The state’s highest court Tuesday cleared the way for a question to be included on the November ballot that would allow for a second slots parlor in Massachusetts, a proposal that could lead to a casino near Suffolk Downs.

The ballot petition is backed by developer Eugene McCain, who, the Globe has reported, aims to acquire property for a luxury hotel and gambling facility near the track, which straddles the corder of Revere and East Boston.

“Mr. McCain has investigated and pursued the acquisition of properties throughout Massachusetts, including Revere, with the hope that he might identify and acquire properties that would meet the necessary conditions to qualify for a license,’’ his attorneys wrote in court papers.


In its unanimous ruling Tuesday, the Supreme Judicial Court addressed only whether backers of the ballot petition and Attorney General Maura Healey’s office complied with technical requirements for inclusion on the November ballot, and not the merits of the proposal itself.

“We conclude that the petition complies with these provisions and was therefore properly certified by the Attorney General,’’ Chief Justice Ralph Gants wrote for the court.

The ballot question, if approved by voters, would authorize the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to issue a second slots casino license, which would be added to the mix of three casinos and one slots parlor already allowed by the 2011 law legalizing gambling in Massachusetts.

The ballot proposal specifies that the second slot casino shall be licensed only on a property that is at least four acres in size and within 1,500 feet of a racetrack and its outbuildings, a description that applies only to Suffolk Downs, according to court papers.

McCain’s lawyers wrote that he is a native of Revere who recently established legal residency in the North Shore city. Last year. the Globe reported that McCain was living in Thailand when he tried to acquire property abutting Suffolk Downs.


The court’s ruling was prompted by longtime opponents of gambling, especially in Revere and East Boston, who challenged McCain’s casino plans on the grounds that the statewide ballot question was legally flawed, because it dealt with an issue of singular importance to Revere voters.

However, the high court said, the gambling proposal is of statewide significance because the positives, jobs and tax revenue, along with the negatives, like a potential increase in problem gambling, are not narrow, local concerns.

“The construction workers who would build such a slots parlor, the employees who would operate it, and the visitors who would play the slots would not be limited to those residing in the host community, and the tax revenues anticipated from its operation would benefit state coffers,’’ Gants wrote.

The court noted that, while the language seems to benefit only McCain because Suffolk is the only existing racetrack that meets the restrictions, there is nothing to prevent investors from building a new track. And the owners of tracks in Brockton and Plainville, where the Plainridge Casino is open and operating, could potentially still qualify if other investors become involved.

“It may well be true that this petition was motivated by one person’s desire to profit from the Commonwealth’s developing gaming industry, based on his ownership interest in a particular property,’’ Gants wrote. “But our focus in deciding whether an initiative petition reaches the voters must be on the actual law proposed by the petition, not on the motives that may lie behind it.’’


Those issues must be decided by voters from across Massachusetts, not just those in Revere, the court ruled.

Matthew S. Cameron, attorney for the all-volunteer effort opposing the ballot question, expressed disappointment at the ruling. He said they would shift their attention to November and convincing voters to reject the ballot question.

“I respect what the court did. I see where they are coming from,’’ Cameron said. “But the fact remains that this is filed by one man for one purpose. And we need to make the voters aware that this is not the time to be adding more casinos in Massachusetts.’’

McCain, who calls his effort the Horse Racing Jobs and Education Committee, said in a statement issued through attorney Jeffrey S. King that he was pleased by the ruling in his favor.

“Our goal is to give the citizens of Massachusetts the opportunity to express their support for one additional slots parlor during this November’s election,’’ the statement read. “Approval by the citizens this fall will enable an enterprise that will create many jobs, provide substantial additional tax revenues for education in the Commonwealth, and bring funds to the Massachusetts horse racing tradition.’’

John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com.