The Supreme Judicial Court today backed letting voters decide whether a man who has an agreement to buy a mobile-home park near Suffolk Downs should be allowed to apply for a slots-parlor license for the parcel.
The ruling by the state's highest court means voters this fall will vote on whether the state gaming commission should add a potential slot license that would only apply to a site that is "at least 4 acres large, and shall be adjacent to, and within 1500 feet of, a race track, including the track, grounds, paddocks, barns, auditorium, amphitheatre and/or bleachers, if any, where a horse racing meeting may physically be held, which race track shall have hosted a horse racing meeting, provided that said location is not separated from said race track by a highway or railway."
Ten Suffolk County taxpayers sued to block the Attorney General's approval of the measure, saying it was "substantially the same" to a 2014 referendum to bar casino gambling, which state law forbids, and is so specific to just one site that it's a "local" matter barred from statewide ballot questions.
Wrong on both counts, the SJC said.
The 2014 referendum applied to all gambling halls and would have made such gambling illegal, while Eugene McCain's proposal would be just an "incremental change in the licensing scheme for slots parlors," so hardly the same at all.
And while it's true the proposed slots parlor definition might only apply to just one location, the proposed slots parlor's workers and customers could come from anywhere in the state.
Besides, the court continued, the plaintiffs failed to show that, in fact, the oddly specific proposal really only applied to just one location in the entire state, and that, in any case, nothing is stopping anybody from applying for state permission to build a new racetrack and then apply for permission to build a slots parlor next to it, as long as it's not separated by a highway or railway and on at least four acres. The court allowed as how that might be a stretch in the real world, but continued that legally, hey, it could happen.
The justices added:
It may well be true that this petition was motivated by one person's desire to profit from the Commonwealth's developing gaming industry, based on his ownership interest in a particular property; the interests that propel both proponents and opponents of initiative petitions may often involve self interest rather than the public interest. But our focus in deciding whether an initiative petition reaches the voters must be on the actual law proposed by the petition, not on the motives that may lie behind it; the voters may consider those motives in deciding how they vote on the petition.