Massachusetts casino foes say they can get repeal on ballot

BOSTON, June 18 Wed Jun 18, 2014 12:02pm EDT

BOSTON, June 18 (Reuters) - An effort to repeal a 2011 Massachusetts law allowing casinos in the state took a step forward on Wednesday, as opponents said they had collected enough voter signatures to trigger a November referendum on the law.

Anti-casino group Repeal The Casino Deal said it had collected more than 26,000 signatures supporting its call for a referendum, more than double the 11,485 signatures required to get on the ballot.

"The interest and excitement around this question is tremendous and only growing," said Darek Barcikowski, the group's campaign manager, in a statement late Tuesday. "The state just doesn't need the downsides we know will come with casino gambling."

Under a 2011 Massachusetts law that sought to stimulate economic development, one slot parlor license and three casino licenses are available statewide. The slots license was awarded in February for a facility in Plainville, about 30 miles (48 km) southwest of Boston.

Casino opponents contend the franchises are more likely to breed crime and tank property values than help ailing local economies.

Only one of the three casino licenses has been awarded, to Las Vegas developer MGM Resorts International, with formal licensing on hold pending the referendum.

Anti-casino activists said they would keep collecting signatures until the Wednesday night deadline to submit the petition to city and town clerks.

The petition must then be sent to Secretary of State William Galvin's office by July 2, where it will be checked for compliance with a number of legal regulations that it is so far expected to meet, said Brian McNiff, a spokesman.

"Obviously the signatures have to be looked at, they have to be reviewed, but, subject to that review, it (the measure) gets approved and it goes on the ballot," said McNiff.

Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court is also reviewing the matter, weighing an appeal from the anti-casino group over Attorney General Martha Coakley's ruling last year that a repeal vote would unconstitutionally violate the property contract rights of casino developers. The court is expected to rule by July 9.

If the referendum does not proceed or fails to win voter support, MGM plans to build an $800 million casino in Springfield, located 90 miles (145 km) west of Boston.

Developers Caesars Entertainment Corp and Wynn Resorts Ltd are also seeking licenses. (Editing by Scott Malone and David Gregorio)

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