Ruling thrusts casinos back into political debate

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News,Business,Gambling

BOSTON (AP) — With its decision to allow a casino repeal question on the November ballot, Massachusetts' highest court has thrust one of the state's most contentious issues onto the political front burner.

Virtually all the candidates for governor and attorney general say they support giving voters the final say on casinos. At the same time, candidates are deeply divided about the merits of casinos.

The decision put Democrat Attorney General Martha Coakley in the most politically awkward position of any candidate. The gubernatorial hopeful had argued as attorney general that the question was unconstitutional and shouldn't be put on the ballot. Coakley on Tuesday said she was satisfied with the Supreme Judicial Court's ruling.

"I made a call. That's what my job is, to make a call. I'm always transparent about what I do. I knew we weren't the final call on this," Coakley said.

The ballot question would repeal the 2011 law allowing up to 3 casinos and a single slots parlor in Massachusetts. Coakley's two Democratic challengers for governor — state Treasurer Steve Grossman and former Medicare administrator Don Berwick — both welcomed the decision to allow the question on the ballot, although they split on the repeal effort.

Grossman said casinos could potentially create 15,000 good-paying jobs. He said he'll vote against repeal.

Berwick said casinos lead to gambling addiction, substance abuse, drunken driving, and other safety problems. He said he's confident the repeal effort will succeed.

Republican candidate for governor Charlie Baker said he supports the court's rebuke of what he called Coakley's "poorly reasoned position." He said he'd prefer a single casino to start, but opposes repeal. He also questioned whether Coakley's decision "was shaped more by political considerations than legal merit."

Fellow Republican candidate Mark Fisher said he favors repealing the casino law, arguing that state leaders should try to lure better jobs to Massachusetts.

The two Democratic candidates for attorney general also split on the casino question.

Warren Tolman said he'll vote against repeal, noting that the law already gives local city and town voters final veto power over whether to host a casino.

Maura Healey says she strongly supports repealing the law.

"Every week, headlines show us what a mess this casino law has become — embroiled in conflict, controversy and potential corruption," Healey said in a statement.

The sole Republican candidate for attorney general, John Miller, faulted Coakley for making "a political calculation that it was better to pass the decision to the SJC than it was to make this easy professional call."

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