(Adds reaction from gambling companies)
By Elizabeth Barber
BOSTON, June 24 Massachusetts voters will have
an opportunity in November to repeal a 2011 law legalizing
gambling, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled on Tuesday, casting
uncertainty over a years-long effort to bring casinos to the
The question came before the court after Massachusetts
Attorney General Martha Coakley sought to block the casino
referendum, arguing it could violate property rights of
The "voters of Massachusetts may choose to abolish casino
and slots parlor gambling," the court said in its unanimous
decision, noting gambling opponents had gathered more than
enough signatures to place the question on the ballot.
Coakley, a Democrat who is running for governor, said in a
statement she was pleased the court had ruled on the matter and
that "it is now an issue that will be decided by the voters in
Under the gambling law, Massachusetts can award three casino
licenses statewide. But just one has been awarded so far and the
winner, Las Vegas developer MGM Resorts International,
has put off formally accepting the license until the repeal
question is settled.
An MGM official did not immediately respond to requests for
comment. The company's casino would be located in the western
Massachusetts city of Springfield.
Meanwhile, developers Mohegan Sun and Wynn Resorts are
seeking the state's eastern Massachusetts license with competing
proposals near Boston. The state's gaming commission is expected
to choose between the two in August.
Mohegan Sun said in a statement it will seek to make the
case to voters on "why this law is good for workers, good for
the economy and good for the commonwealth."
Wynn declined comment.
Casino advocates say the resorts will bring windfalls to
cash-strapped communities and staunch the flow of money into
casinos elsewhere in the Northeast. But critics say casinos
could drive up crime and hurt property values.
John Ribeiro, chairman of anti-casino group Repeal The
Casino Deal, which led the referendum effort, said his group was
elated by the court's decision.
Casino gambling has had mixed success in New England.
Connecticut has two large casinos owned by Indian tribes, Maine
has two small casinos and Rhode Island has two slot machine
parlors. New Hampshire state legislators last year rejected a
bill that would have allowed construction of a casino that had
strong support from Governor Maggie Hassan.
The Massachusetts law also allows for a slots parlor
license. One was awarded in February to Penn National Gaming in
Plainville, about 30 miles (48 km) southwest of Boston.
Penn spokesman Eric Schippers said the company would launch
an informational campaign ahead of the referendum and was still
counting on a June 2015 opening.
"For us, this campaign will be about education, it will be
about informing voters about all the jobs that are at stake
here," he said.
(Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Bill Trott)