The Supreme Judicial Court rejected an argument by Attorney General Martha Coakley that repealing the law would be "taking" without compensation from the companies that have already invested heavily in Massachusetts. A casino has been authorized in Springfield, the largest city in western Massachusetts, and a slot parlor in Plainville, a small town on the Rhode Island line.
The court said regulating gambling is part of the legitimate police power of the state and changes in the law cannot be construed as taking of private property.
"Instead, the possibility of abolition is one of the many foreseeable risks that casinos, slots parlors, and their investors take when they choose to apply for a license and invest in a casino or slots parlor," the court said.
Anthony Cignoli, a political consultant in Springfield, said he expects millions of dollars to be spent on attempting to sway voters if the issue gets on the ballot.
"This is a very historic ballot question," Les Bernal, director of the national group Stop Predatory Gambling told the Boston Globe in a recent interview. "It will be the first time in modern history for a citizen-led effort to repeal government sponsorship of casinos."
The state law authorizes three casinos and a slot parlor. Last year, voters in Palmer, a small post-industrial city between Springfield and Worcester, narrowly defeated an attempt by Mohegan Sun, which already operates a casino in Connecticut, to open one there.