Top state court approves ballot question on slots parlor linked to Suffolk Downs

Suffolk Downs
The horse racetrack at Suffolk Downs. –The Boston Globe

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts on Tuesday paved the way for a ballot question on whether to license a second slots parlor in the state.

Currently, the state’s gambling laws allow licenses for three casinos and one slots parlor in Massachusetts. The ballot question would create a second slots parlor license, but only if that slots parlor is located near a horse racetrack.

The ballot question is being pushed by Eugene McCain, a real estate developer who has proposed building a gambling facility and hotel at a location adjacent to Suffolk Downs, The Boston Globe has reported.

Suffolk Downs, the horse racetrack founded in 1935, has a fraught recent history with casino licenses. In 2014, a majority of East Boston voters rejected a ballot question on a proposed $1 billion casino resort at Suffolk Downs. Proponents of the casino then adjusted their plan to put the casino solely on the Revere side of the racetrack property, but state gambling commissioners voted to support a rival casino proposal in Everett instead.

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Suffolk Downs officials have said the racetrack itself is not involved with the ballot initiative.

On Tuesday, the SJC ruled that backers of the ballot question and Attorney General Maura Healey’s office appropriately handled the technical requirements of getting a question on the ballot. The SJC did not opine on the merits of the question.

Challengers to the ballot question argued that the license was specifically aimed building up near Suffolk Downs and therefore constituted a local matter, not a state one. But the SJC rejected that argument, arguing that all gambling issues are handled by the state and that other developers could conceivably build such a location to qualify for the license.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story said that the proposed gambling facility would be located at Suffolk Downs. In fact, the proposed facility would be located nearby the racetrack.

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