Updated March 27 at 3:27pm

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SBA summit focuses on casinos, health care exchange

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PROVIDENCE – The state should adopt into law provisions for establishment of a health care exchange and, in another matter, must not ignore the threat of casinos in nearby Massachusetts, according to two committees that prepared recommendations for the General Assembly Friday morning at the U.S. Small Business Administration Rhode Island Economic Summit.

About 150 small business owners and advocates attended the six-hour summit at the Johnson & Wales Culinary Archives and Museum, including state officials and lawmakers.

Six committees host sessions on specialized topics, such as health care and taxes, complemented by plenary sessions that all attend. Among those addressing the gathering was Mark S. Hayward, director of the SBA regional office in Providence.

Ted Almon, president and CEO of Claflin Company in Warwick, who chaired the 11-member health care standing committee, said his group for the second year in a row is urging the legislature to formally incorporate into state law the terms of Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee’s executive order for creation of a health care exchange.

The executive order remains in effect only as long as Chafee is in office, Almon noted, and committee members decided it is important that the health care exchange be made part of state law to protect its future existence.

Grafton “Cap” Willey IV, managing director of the CBIZ Tofias and Mayer Hoffman McCann P.C. accounting firm and a longtime small business supporter, said his seven-member committee on taxes and the budget came to the consensus that the state cannot ignore the threat to operating revenue posed by tentative plans for casinos in the New Bedford or Foxboro areas.

“The state has to respond to that threat,” he told Providence Business News during a break in the summit. His committee did not specify what that response should be, but Willey said the “logical” recommendation would be to allow table games at both Twin River Casino and Newport Grand Slots.

Attending the tax and budget session was Paul L. Dion, chief of the office of revenue analysis of the state Department of Revenue, who presented figures on the gambling revenue the state receives, approximately $285.2 million from Twin River and $29.5 million from Newport Grand in the current fiscal year. In general, gambling revenue accounts for about $300 million of the state’s annual $7.7 billion operating budget.

The summit results in preparation of a legislative package by participants for introduction to the General Assembly in the weeks ahead.

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RItruth

Wiley's comments are ludicrous, symptomatic of the lack of strategic vision that has infected RI's business community for far too long.

Back in 2006, Carcieri hired a friend who did a study for $20K in taxpayer money and his friend --- surprise --- came up with the absurd conclusion that if RI expanded Twin River and Newport Grand as slot parlors, that it would deter Massachusetts from ever approving casinos.

Huh?

Now, both the RI slot parlors and CT casinos have been operating since the early and mid-90's, and during that time, Massachusetts residents have made more than eight million visits --- six million to the CT casinos and two million to the RI slot parlors. Adn lucid-minded people were supposed to believe that simply adding more slots and a few table games at the RI slot parlors was going to keep MA from recapturing the $1 billion it spends at those gaming venues every year?

This is just another example of how RI business leaders, and jokers like Carcieri, put personal bias and their own private needs over the welfare of all of Rhode Island.

It's too late, folks. The damage was done by Carcieri and his business friends --- the chambers of commerce, the tourism groups, the business leaders, RIPEC --- all who feared having to pay RI residents bigger wages if they had to compete with a world-class casino in our state.

No one apparently thought about the millions of MA, New Hampshire and Maine visitors who would visit a RI casino, eating in RI restaurants, staying in RI hotels, visiting our capital city, our seashore and Newport, twelve months a year. No one!

So now the chickens have come home to roost. And since MA residents represent more than 50% of the players at RI's two slot parlors, what's going to happen to RI when those MA residents --- and a good number of Rhode Islanders as well --- forsake our state's two slot parlors for a world-class casino AND a world-class slot parlor in SEMass?

And if the slot parlor is at Plainridge in Plainvile or at Raynham Park in Raynham, do our business leaders really think that Rhode Islanders won't quickly figure out that it's better to play at a MA casino paying a 25% gaming tax, or a MA slot parlor paying a 40% gaming tax, than at a RI slot parlor paying a 61% gaming tax?

Trouble's brewin' folks, and its barreling down Rt. 95 south straight at Rhode Island. It's called competition. And we lose!

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