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Milford casino defeat fuels call for repeal of state's gambling law

Posted by Leslie Anderson  November 20, 2013 06:39 PM

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In the aftermath of Tuesday’s overwhelming defeat of a proposed casino in Milford and a string of losses statewide, a group of local officials are calling on Governor Deval Patrick and the legislature to rethink the future of casino gambling in Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, an anti-casino group says it has the signatures necessary to put a referendum on the ballot repealing the law.

Members of the MetroWest Anti-Casino Coalition -- made up of selectmen from Hopkinton, Holliston, Medway and Ashland -- see the defeat of Foxwoods’ plans to build a $1 billion casino at Route 16 and Interstate 495 as just another sign that casinos may not be the right fit for Massachusetts.

“How do you reconcile the legislation that allows this with wave after wave of rejection?” Selectman Jay Marsden of Holliston asked.

“I don’t know how the legislation gets matched up with the fact that basically no one wants to take the plunge and take everything that goes along with saying yes to one of these things,” he said.

The governor, however, has no second thoughts.

Speaking Wednesday to reporters at the State House, Patrick said the law is working exactly as it’s supposed to.

“I think this is something we can do well if we do it the right way. I think the framework of the legislation is the right framework. This has never been central to our economic growth strategy; it’s, for most people, harmless,” he said, according to a transcript provided by Deputy Press Secretary Bonnie McGilpin.

State Representative Carolyn Dykema, a Holliston Democrat who has been a vocal opponent of casino gambling statewide and the Foxwoods proposal in particular, said she sees voters saying the cost of casinos is too high.

“It seems that towns considering casino projects are paying close attention to the details, weighing the economic potential against the costs to residents’ quality of life, and deciding that the costs are just too high,” she wrote in an email to the Globe.

“It’s hard to look at the results of the recent local votes and not question whether casinos can or should be part of Massachusetts’ future,” she wrote.

Meanwhile, the Repeal the Casino Deal campaign says it has collected and filed more than 90,000 signatures from across the state in its effort to put a question repealing the casino law on the 2014 statewide election ballot, according to the group’s spokesman David Guarino.

The group is optimistic the signatures filed by Wednesday’s deadline with local election officials will result in the certification of the necessary 68,911 needed to put the measure before voters. The signatures certified by local communities must be filed with Secretary of State William Galvin’s office by Dec. 4.

The campaign gained momentum after votes defeating casino proposals in East Boston and Palmer earlier this month and built through the final days of the Milford campaign, according to Guarino.

“This has been a huge grassroots effort,” he said. “After the East Boston and Palmer votes, hundreds of new volunteers signed up, and donations started to come in so we were able to pay some people to gather signatures.”

Tables were set-up to gather signatures outside polling places in Milford on Tuesday, and volunteers worked right up until Wednesday’s 5 p.m. deadline, he said.

“We’re very hopeful the necessary number of signatures will be certified allowing us to jump this next hurdle,” Guarino said.

In addition to gathering the signatures, Repeal the Casino Deal has also filed a court challenge of Attorney General Martha Coakley’s decision not to allow residents to vote to overturn the state’s casino law. The state’s Supreme Judicial Court allowed the signature drive to continue pending a hearing on the appeal.

Former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger is leading the appeal effort.

“This is a truly remarkable statewide, grassroots citizen movement,” he said, according to a press release from the group.

“This is still an uphill battle but we get stronger every day with more and more support around this great state for ending this bad idea. Our hats go off to the citizen leaders in community-after-community who are standing up to big money with grassroots might.”

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com.

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