Abdow v. Attorney General

11 N.E.3d 574 (2014)

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Abdow v. Attorney General

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
11 N.E.3d 574 (2014)


In 2011, Massachusetts enacted a law allowing casino and slot-machine gambling. The law authorized the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (commission) to award casino and slots-parlor licenses and redefined “illegal gaming” to exclude gaming conducted at commission-licensed casinos and slots parlors, as well as pari-mutuel wagering on simulcast greyhound races. In 2014, Massachusetts voters, including Stephen Abdow (collectively, voters) (plaintiffs), submitted a proposed ballot initiative that sought to reprohibit casino and slots gaming and abolish simulcast greyhound wagering. The initiative proposed to (1) amend the definition of “illegal gaming” to exclude the categories permitted by the 2011 law and (2) prohibit the commission from approving any application to conduct “illegal gaming” as redefined. The Massachusetts attorney general (defendant) declined to certify the petition for inclusion on the November 2014 ballot, reasoning that the 2011 law had created implied contracts between the commission and license applicants, which gave the applicants an implied contractual right to receive decisions on their applications. The attorney general concluded that prohibiting the commission from approving license applications would result in an impermissible taking of an applicant’s right to receive a decision. The voters brought a mandamus action against the attorney general and secretary of the Commonwealth (the secretary) (defendant), seeking to compel the attorney general to certify the petition. Three intervening groups presented additional arguments against certifying the petition, including that (1) the initiative, if enacted, would result in an unconstitutional taking of licenses that had been awarded by the commission, (2) the initiative related only to the specific municipalities that would house licensed gaming facilities and thus concerned a local matter that was inappropriate for a ballot initiative, and (3) the initiative’s subjects (i.e., eliminating casino and slots gaming and abolishing pari-mutuel greyhound wagering) were not sufficiently related to satisfy the related-subjects requirement for proposed ballot measures. The county court directed the secretary to prepare to place the initiative on the ballot, pending the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s decision regarding whether the initiative petition should be certified.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Gants, J.)

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