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Five ways casinos are shaping this election season

Pitting unions against social liberals

1Two key Democratic constituencies; opposite sides of the issue. The unions representing the building trades are pro-casino for the obvious reason: jobs. But they’re busy amid a construction boom in Boston, and offset by social liberals who bemoan gambling’s ills. That’s why so many candidates equivocate. Take Steve Grossman, who won the building trades endorsement and is courting progressive votes. In the recent Globe Opinion Debate, he declined to say whether he thought a repeal referendum should get on the ballot. That’s a legal question, Grossman said. Well, yes, but so is Roe v. Wade, and Grossman has opinions on abortion.

Giving Coakley headaches

2About that referendum: It was filed by Repeal the Casino Deal, an anticasino group. As attorney general, front-runner Martha Coakley has played a key role in determining whether it makes the ballot. Coakley’s office, which reviews the legality of ballot questions, concluded that the repeal didn’t make the cut, because it would “impair” implied contracts without compensation. Repeal proponents sued. The Supreme Judicial Court has yet to rule. Still, as a candidate, Coakley has hedged, saying that gaming isn’t her ideal economic development plan, but since it’s the law, she wants to make sure it’s done right.

Emboldening Berwick

3Don Berwick is the only Democratic gubernatorial candidate who opposes casinos outright — a key point of differentiation for him, and a clear bid for the party's progressive wing. If polls are right and support for gambling is waning across the state, Berwick stands to pick up some anticasino support. And if the repeal referendum gets on the ballot, he could benefit from the turnout of passionate casino foes. Expect this to be a major subject of his advertising.

Putting Republicans on the spot

4There’s no clear ideological divide between the parties on this issue. There is a division between the Republican candidates. Charlie Baker is lukewarm on casinos; he’s long said he’d rather see one casino in Massachusetts than three. But while Baker wants a repeal question on the ballot, he won’t say how he’d vote: “I’m still chewing on that,” he said at a forum this month. His primary opponent, Mark Fisher, said he supports a repeal, because casinos “separate people from their hard-earned cash.”

Dividing the AG candidates

5There’s also a split between the candidates for attorney general, former state senator Warren Tolman and Assistant Attorney General Maura Healey. At last weekend’s convention, Healey railed against casinos, saying they lead to addiction, bankruptcies, and foreclosures. Tolman — endorsed by the building trades — has been more open to gambling, sort of. At the convention, he pledged to be the “most aggressive attorney general taking on the casino industry.” Earlier, he told the Globe he hoped to see a repeal on the ballot, but that he’d vote against it. Like many other candidates, he’s probably hoping the court takes things out of his hands.