By Matt Murphy
State House News Service
BOSTON -- Maura Healey, a Democratic candidate for attorney general, came out in opposition to expanded gambling Monday, throwing her support behind a proposed ballot question that would make casino gambling illegal in Massachusetts.
Healey, a former assistant attorney general under Attorney General Martha Coakley, also broke with her former boss in arguing that the proposed ballot question, which would, in essence, repeal the 2011 expanded-gaming law, should be allowed to proceed to the ballot. Coakley ruled it ineligible, but proponents are fighting her decision in court.
"I'm opposed to expanded casino gaming, and I support the current effort to repeal the gaming law," Healey wrote on the liberal Democrat blog Blue Mass Group. "I do not believe a modern economy that is focused on creating opportunities for every person can be built on gambling. The few communities that have voted in favor of casinos are going through tough economic times, and many see casinos as a much-needed boost. But evidence from across the country tells a different story. Casinos don't lay a foundation for diverse economies, they take over."
Healey is running for the Democratic nomination for attorney general against former state Sen. Warren Tolman. A spokesman for Tolman could not immediately be reached for comment, but Tolman has said previously he does not support repealing the casino law.
Healey said the experience of communities around the country where casinos have been located is that local restaurants and entertainment venues lose patrons, personal bankruptcies and home foreclosures jump, and the costs for police and other services skyrocket.
Speaking to some areas beyond the reach of the Attorney General's Office, she advocated instead for infrastructure development, investments in education and job training, a more "progressive tax structure," an increase in the minimum wage and "unionizing our workforce" to help create jobs and prepare residents for the modern economy.
If casinos are allowed to be built, Healey said she would hire the "best lawyers" for a newly formed Gaming Division in the Attorney General's Office that the gaming industry should pay for. She also said she would create a team of investigators to be stationed full time in casinos to monitor for abusive or predatory practices.
Coakley in September declined to certify the ballot proposal to prohibit casinos, based on her determination that contract rights are considered property and may not be "taken" by an initiative petition. Her office contends that applicants for casino licenses have an "implied contractual right" and an expectation that the licensing process will play out as set forth in the expanded-gaming law.
The organizers behind the ballot question argue that prospective casino developers entered the licensing process knowing that the law legalizing expanded gambling in Massachusetts could be changed at any time.
The Supreme Judicial Court is expected to hear arguments in the case the first week in May.
"The opinion stated that it is improper to shut down the licensing process now that several casino operators have applied," Healey wrote in her blog post. "But voters made a decision to shut down the greyhound tracks with a ballot question, and that was an industry that had been running for years. I am not concerned about the well-being of casino operators. I am concerned about the well-being of the residents of Massachusetts. The final decision is up to the courts, but I believe on a matter of this magnitude, the voters should have a chance to be heard."