Anti-casino group seeks broader base

PHILIP MARCELO, Associated Press
BOSTON (AP) — With a huge court victory behind them, casino opponents turn their attention to broadening their financial and popular support to win repeal of the Massachusetts’ 2011 gambling law in the November election.
Repeal the Casino Deal scored big Tuesday when the state’s highest court cleared the way for the repeal question to be on the ballot. The law allows for three regional resort casinos and one slots parlor.
Gambling regulators so far have awarded a license to MGM Resorts International for an $800 million casino in Springfield, and to Penn National Gaming for a slots parlor at the Plainridge racetrack in Plainville.
Organizers said yesterday they are optimistic that previously hesitant donors and supporters will step up now that the Supreme Judicial Court has ruled. They cite social, moral and economic reasons for opposing casinos.
“A lot of people had us written off for dead,” said John Ribeiro, the group’s chairman. “But now they see that common sense has prevailed — that people should have a vote on this. People will take a second look.”
Ribeiro, a Winthrop computer programmer who helped defeat a casino planned for neighboring East Boston, said fundraising events are in the works.
“The odds were always against us,” said Ribeiro. “What we know is that we need to go to every corner of this state … We just need to get our message out. That’s what’s been effective.”
In recent weeks, Repeal the Casino Deal hired a paid campaign manager and fundraiser. It’s also brought on volunteers from local groups that helped defeat casino proposals in East Boston, Palmer, Milford and elsewhere.
David Guarino, a former communications director for former state House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, serves as the group’s media and political strategist. Former Democratic state Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1998, has also been a prominent adviser.
Organizers are reluctant to estimate how much money they’ll need to prevail at the polls. To get this far, they’ve leaned on a handful of relatively affluent local donors.
About a dozen donors comprise more than $150,000 of the $175,476 that Repeal the Casino Deal raised last year. Repeal the Casino Deal entered this year with just $7,767 in its campaign account. The group hasn’t disclosed how much it has raised and spent this year but plans to file a campaign finance report in August.
Last year, the group’s top donor was Alan Lewis, CEO of Grand Circle Travel, a Boston-based travel company. He gave $70,000. Lewis has previously donated to the state Republican Party and former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, a Democrat. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment yesterday.
The second-largest donor was Jerry Belair, general counsel for Meredith Management, a Boston-based real estate development company. He gave $46,000 in direct donations and loans. Belair said he’s been involved in anti-casino efforts in Massachusetts since the 1990s, when he and other Springfield residents helped defeat a casino proposal in that city.
The now-Rhode Island resident said he’s not willing to put a limit on his financial support of the cause.
“We’re in it to win it,” Belair said yesterday.
Other significant donations came from former U.S. Ambassador to Austria Swanee Hunt ($15,000), Atlantic Charter Insurance Company CEO Linda Sallop ($5,000) and the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts ($3,000).

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