public policy

Carcieri vetoes Nov. casino referendum

A TECHNICIAN FINISHES installing new video lottery terminals at Newport Grand in 2008. The Newport City Council opposes turning the venue into a casino.
Posted 6/23/10

PROVIDENCE – Gov. Donald L. Carcieri has vetoed legislation that would ask the state’s voters to allow casino gaming at Rhode Island’s two video slot parlors, dealing a severe blow to the state in its race with Massachusetts to approve casinos.

House Speaker Gordon D. Fox, D-Providence, said the General Assembly leadership had not decided as of Wednesday morning whether to reconvene to override the governor’s casino bill veto, or any of the seven other vetoes the governor issued Tuesday night.

“I look forward to discussing these bills further with House members and the Senate leadership,” Fox said in a statement.

In his veto message Tuesday, Carcieri said the casino referendum legislation left too many questions unanswered, such as the state’s “split” from the card and table games that would be allowed if voters approved casinos in the referendum.

Currently, the state takes 61 percent of the video slot revenue at Twin River and 63.49 percent at Newport Grand. (Beginning July 1, the state’s take at Newport Grand will also drop to 61 percent.)

“Leaving the question of splits to future determination is a deeply flawed strategy because the very grant of gaming authority to a private party, before determining the financial arrangement with the state, eviscerates the negotiating power of the state,” Carcieri said in his message.

The governor also expressed concern that the measure usurped local control from the Newport City Council, which has opposed expanded gaming at Newport Grand. The legislation would mandate that the city put the question to its voters, overriding local laws that require the council to approve referendum questions before they appear on the local ballot.

“While I strongly support voter referenda, and have spoken in favor of questions being put to the citizens of Rhode Island on issues of expanding gaming, I cannot support such initiatives when critical financial information is unknown and the normal referenda process is altered without good reason,” Carcieri said.

Rhode Island lawmakers approved the ballot question earlier this month, spurred on by the Bay State’s move to license two or three casinos – including one in Southeastern Massachusetts, possibly Fall River.

Considering that nearly half of Twin River’s patrons come from Massachusetts, Rhode Island officials are worried about protecting the state’s revenue from gaming, which Carcieri said is estimated to be about $291 million for fiscal 2010 – or 9.7 percent of the state budget.

“While some would argue that the threat of gaming in a neighboring state requires immediate action,” the governor said in his veto message, “I believe the advantage of already established venues allows us the time develop better information and craft better questions and processes to respond to that possibility.”

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