Springfield asks court to block casino repeal bid

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BOSTON (AP) — A proposed statewide ballot question seeking to repeal Massachusetts' casino gambling law would impinge on the rights of local government, Springfield's mayor argued in a brief filed Tuesday with the state's highest court.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and nine city residents asked the Supreme Judicial Court to uphold Attorney General Martha Coakley's ruling that the initiative petition filed by the group Repeal the Casino Deal was unconstitutional.

The justices are expected to hear the case in May.

MGM Resorts International has proposed an $800 million resort casino in Springfield and signed a host community agreement that promises the city more than $25 million in annual payments. The Springfield proposal is the only one for western Massachusetts, making it likely that MGM will be awarded a license by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

The city's filing argues that the state constitution prohibits statewide referendums on "local matters." Repeal of the casino law would void existing host community agreements with casino developers in Springfield and three other Massachusetts communities — Plainville, Revere and Everett — making them unique to a "very small number of local communities," Sarno said.

"Springfield's Host Community Agreement outlines the largest development project Western Massachusetts has seen in a generation and will facilitate a renaissance in the core of Downtown Springfield as well as in an area heavily damaged by the June 1, 2011, tornado," the mayor said in a statement.

In her ruling last fall, Coakley did not cite the local matters provision but ruled that the proposed ballot question would violate the contracts clause of the state constitution by permitting voters to interfere with implied contracts between the commission and applicants for casino licenses.

Repeal the Casino Deal filed a 53-page brief with the high court last week asking the justices to overturn the attorney general's ruling and allow voters to decide in November whether to keep on the books the 2011 law that allows for three resort casinos and one slots parlor.

The anti-casino group said Coakley was mistaken in her analysis and that casino developers should anticipate that in a heavily-regulated industry such as gambling, laws can and often will change.

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