Massachusetts Ballot Question 1: An Act Relative to Expanded Gaming

In addition to the presidential election and other state and local races, Mass residents will also be voting on a series of ballot initiatives this November, that were able to be added to the ballot due to a petition drive by their sponsors. This post starts a series of four posts covering the ballot questions.

Massachusetts Ballot Question 1: An Act Relative to Expanded Gaming

See the full text of the petition here and the legal analysis of the petition approving it for application here.

The question as it will appear on the ballot is as below:

QUESTION 1: Law Proposed by Initiative Petition

Do you approve of a law summarized below, on which no vote was taken by the Senate or the House of Representatives on or before May 3, 2016?

SUMMARY

This proposed law would allow the state Gaming Commission to issue one additional category 2 license, which would permit operation of a gaming establishment with no table games and not more than 1,250 slot machines.
The proposed law would authorize the Commission to request applications for the additional license to be granted to a gaming establishment located on property that is (i) at least four acres in size; (ii) adjacent to and within 1,500 feet of a race track, including the track’s additional facilities, such as the track, grounds, paddocks, barns, auditorium, amphitheatre, and bleachers; (iii) where a horse racing meeting may physically be held; (iv) where a horse racing meeting shall have been hosted; and (v) not separated from the race track by a highway or railway.

A YES VOTE would permit the state Gaming Commission to license one additional slot-machine gaming establishment at a location that meets certain conditions specified in the law- specifically, there will be no table games, and less than 1,250 slot machines in the casino, and have to meet the location requirements as mentioned above. It is largely suspected that this additional casino will be located at Suffolk Downs.

A NO VOTE would make no change in current laws regarding gaming.

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History about this question:

In 2011, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law the Expanded Gaming Act (read full text of the law here). The act did a number of things, including: establishing a bipartisan commission to oversee gambling establishments in the state, created statutory regulations for ensuring that any casinos that opened had an obligation to prevent gambling addiction among its patrons, and somewhat obviously, established parameters for casinos to be built throughout the state. The parameters included breaking the state up into regions in which one to two casinos may be built, depending on the type of casino.

Businesses had to submit an application to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and underwent a series of presentations and tests, per say, before an application would be accepted. View the timeline here.

As currently proposed, this ballot question would allow the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to approve a second site for a slot casino, or a casino without table games. It is suspected by those “in the know” that this second casino would likely be located at Suffolk Downs, but the approval of this ballot question is not approving that site directly, it is only permitting the existence of another slot casino in the state.

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Arguments for:

  1. More revenue for the state: The state is able to tax the funds taken in at casinos. Gambling at these establishments actually benefits our schools, public transportation systems, supplement funds used for public services like policing, and also fund public health programs targeted at reducing gambling addiction. (See full text of law). If you want your community to have more resources available, approving a casino and then advocating for it to be in your community might be a good idea.
  2. More jobs: A casino will need to be managed and maintained, there will likely be restaurants built in or near the casino, and perhaps increased reliance on public transportation or toll roads. These would result in more jobs for the people living around the proposed site, and in even more tax revenue.

Arguments against:

  1. Casinos in general prey on needy communities. The argument goes as follows: those most tempted by the chance of winning big are a) those who need a lot of money (poor folks) and/or b) those who are uneducated on the very bad odds of winning big. Often, the uneducated and poor overlap in needy communities. Consequently, those communities are also ones most in need of jobs, and least able to organize politically and defeat a proposed ballot initiative or project that would have a negative impact on their own community- say, a proposed casino site. Therefore, the most logical place to put a casino (a place that would benefit from jobs and tax revenue) is the worst place to put one because it would hurt the people that live there.
  2. Progressive Massachusetts posted the following stance on their website, summing up a lot of arguments against approving the ballot measure:

The 2011 gambling law allowed for up to three resort casinos and one slots parlor. Penn National Gaming currently holds the sole slots parlor license, for Plainridge Park Casino, which has faced declining revenue. Five casinos are already expected to open in the state by 2019, with unproven benefits. Moreover, the ballot question was written by the very real estate developer who plans to benefit from it (Eugene McCain, who has proposed such a site by Suffolk Downs), attempting to bypass the legislature and setting a troubling precedent.

Admittedly, I haven’t been able to find a strong push either for or against this ballot measure as of September 20, 2016, so if you find something new please let me know!

Will you vote for or against the measure? Did I forget something, or get something wrong? Let me know in the comments below.

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