Attorney general rejects gambling ban question for 2014 ballot

The Massachusetts attorney general’s office has rejected a bid to put a proposed law banning casinos on the 2014 ballot, saying the proposal wasn’t allowable under the state’s initiative petition process.

The proposed law would “impair the implied contracts” between casino proponents who have paid millions of dollars in application fees and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which is considering their applications. Essentially, it would “take” without compensation the casino proponents’ contract rights, Peter Sacks, the state solicitor, said in a ruling.

“We are therefore unable to certify the petition,” Sacks wrote.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The state’s ballot initiative process allows citizens, if they collect enough signatures, to get proposed laws or constitutional amendments on the ballot. But some proposals are out of bounds under Article 48 of the Amendments to the state Constitution, which establishes the process.

One type of proposal that’s ruled out is a proposal that would interfere with someone’s “right to receive compensation for private property appropriated to public use.” Sacks said the casino ban was such a proposal.

John F. Ribeiro, chairman of the Committee to Repeal the Casino Deal, who filed the proposed law, said he was “disappointed” and mulling his options, which officials said include an appeal to the state Supreme Judicial Court.

“We fully expected to be certified today,” Ribeiro said. “This is something that should be voted on by the people of the Commonwealth.”

The casino ban proposal was among five that were denied today. Twenty-eight others were certified by the attorney general’s office, including 25 proposed laws and 3 proposed constitutional amendments.

The next hurdle for proponents is to gather 68,911 petition signatures this fall.

Proposed laws are sent to the Legislature to enact before the first Wednesday in May 2014. If the Legislature fails to enact the laws, proponents must gather another 11,485 signatures by July 2014 to place the proposal on the November 2014 ballot, the attorney general’s office said.

Proposed constitutional amendments must be approved by at least 25 percent of the Legislature in 2014 and again in 2015-2016 before they can appear on the 2016 ballot, the office said.

“Ballot initiatives allow citizens across the Commonwealth to directly engage in the process of democracy,” Attorney General Martha Coakley said in a statement. “We have conducted a complete and thorough review of these initiative petitions and found that most meet the requirements posed in the state’s constitution. Our decisions do not reflect any opinion on the merits or values of the petitions, but simply that the constitutional requirements were met.”

In past years, as many as nine questions have made it to the ballot, but for the past several statewide elections only three have made it.

Other proposed laws that were certified by the attorney general’s office today included proposals to hike the minimum wage, repeal a new tax on computer services, and expand the state’s bottle deposit law, the Statehouse News Service reported.