Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts International is asking Massachusetts gambling regulators to slow the process of collecting required state fees for a casino license in the state’s western region as it seeks to open an $800 million casino in downtown Springfield.
MGM Springfield President Michael Mathis suggested Thursday that the state Gaming Commission award the company a license, as expected, by the end of May.
But he requested the commission consider holding off finalizing the process and collecting the required state fees, pending the outcome of an effort by gambling opponents to repeal the state’s 2011 casino law.
The proposed anti-casino ballot question is before the state’s highest court.
“Repeal the Casino Deal,” the group that is pushing for the referendum, said MGM’s request is a sign the “landscape for casinos has shifted” in Massachusetts.
In a related development, the Massachusetts attorney general’s office filed legal documents in the state Supreme Judicial Court on Wednesday defending its decision to exclude from the November ballot a voter referendum calling for repeal of the gambling law.
The office said the proposed referendum would violate the state constitution. It argues that the state already has an “implied contract” with casino license seekers, which include MGM and Wynn Resorts, and that the ballot referendum amounts to an uncompensated taking of private property.
The filing, among several made by Wednesday’s deadline, comes as the state Supreme Judicial Court is set to hear arguments May 5 in an appeal brought by a local group opposed to casino gambling in Massachusetts.
The group wants the court to overturn Attorney General Martha Coakley’s ruling and allow Massachusetts residents to vote on ballot question it has proposed.
The Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University, which is among the groups and individuals that have filed papers supporting the anti-casino referendum, argues that allowing casinos to open in Massachusetts would have “grave implications” to public health.
“Massachusetts voters should not be denied the opportunity to be heard directly on the question of whether to invite a predatory and toxic industry to do business in the commonwealth,” the institute wrote.
Opponents of the proposed anti-casino voter referendum also have submitted legal arguments in advance of the May 5 court date.
Among those were Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, Revere Mayor Daniel Rizzo, and other residents and organizations in those two communities, which are potential sites for resort-style casinos.