The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court shuffled the deck in New England public affairs Tuesday when it ruled that there shall be a referendum in the Bay State this fall on legalizing state licensed casinos. This was good news on many counts.
The principle of the people having a say in their own affairs requires constant affirmation in an age of bossy government. Casino opponents had collected tens of thousands of signatures, far exceeding number required to put a question on the ballot. Martha Coakley, the state attorney general whose authoritarian instinct is never far from the surface, had dismissed the petitions and blocked the referendum.
The Massachusetts decision was a rebuke to Coakley as she plods along in her race for governor, a Democrat in an emphatically Democratic state. The casino interests that haven't already been voted down in local referendums are also unhappy. They will have to spend millions to persuade the state's voters not to repeal the law that allows three regional casinos and a slots parlor.
The poorly funded but spirited opponents of casinos in Massachusetts have shown themselves to be dab hands at defeating proposals in local votes in West Springfield, Milford, Palmer and East Boston. Springfield voters approved a casino referendum last year in a campaign that saw casino company MGM Springfield spend millions to win the vote in that beleaguered city.
The airwaves will be full of testimonials on the benefits to the economy and tax receipts. Opponents of repealing the casino law will trot out every manner of familiar types to proclaim that casinos will mean more police, better schools, construction jobs and the obliteration of every ill known to the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, birthplace of the American Revolution. By November, some may wonder why there are not casinos planned for every town since their supporters see them as an elixir for any ailment.
Neighboring states ought to be rejoicing over this obstacle to building three casinos and a slots parlor in New England's largest state. Those resorts, if completed, will threaten Connecticut's two Indian casinos in the southeast corner of the state. Connecticut's government has a significant stake in the money spent on gambling at Foxwoods and the Mohegan Sun.
The campaign to thwart casino opponents will feature many colorful drawings of gleaming buildings. Voters possess a more measured view of these proposals than do the politicians. Our elected officials are unusually susceptible to architects and their renderings of the future. It's their drug of choice.
Maybe that provides another reason Hartford's leaders fell so hard for a local taxpayer-funded $60 million minor league baseball stadium they want to build downtown. If that dull grocery store that developers were considering for a location close to the stadium site had been accompanied by unrealistic drawings, it might still be in the game.
One reason stadiums elicit stronger reactions from than public than casinos is that rich team owners want the public to pay for their facilities. Casino operators do not. City Council leader Shawn "Bringing Baseball Home" Wooden has learned this at considerable cost to his state Senate primary campaign against incumbent Democrat Eric Coleman.
Wooden brought a wide grin to the announcement of the Rock Cats stadium deal. It's turned upside down into a deep frown as the public has made its displeasure known over the price tag the poverty-stricken city would have to pay for a stadium. Other issues have won some attention. The entire process was conducted with a contempt for public participation. Stadium-loving consultants were hired in a manner that kept that expenditure secret until the unveiling of the process.
Hartford citizens will have been cast in one role by their leaders: the patsies who pay for the joint. There was talk that if Hartford had not reached a deal to move the Rock Cats from their home in New Britain, the team would have gone to Springfield. That appears not to have been true.
The Massachusetts casino vote offers some relief to Hartford's taxpayers. If the casino law is repealed, there are a couple of spots suitable for a stadium. I wonder how eager the people of Springfield would be to pay for one. They like colorful drawings.
Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state legislator. He can be reached at email@example.com.