Rhode Island voters say „No“ to Indian casino

Rhode Island voters soundly rejected a proposed constitutional amendment Tuesday that would have allowed the Narragansett Indian Tribe and its Las Vegas partner to build a resort casino in West Warwick. The defeat for the tribe and gaming giant Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. followed one of the costliest ballot campaigns in Rhode Island history, and marked the latest setback in the Narrangansett’s long-running effort to bring casino gambling to the Ocean State.

With 93 percent of precincts reporting, the casino question – Number 1 on the ballot – was losing 63 percent to 37 percent. “We were always confident that Rhode Islanders would take a good, hard look at the casino deal and realize it for what it was – a bad deal for our state,” said former Governor Lincoln Almond, who led the campaign against the measure. “This is the opinion shared by people from all walks of life, all political parties, all age groups, all incomes and from all over this fine state.”

Harrah’s spent around USD 12 million for television and radio spots, billboards and newspaper ads touting a resort casino planned for an 34-hectare tract along Interstate 95. The site, south of Providence, is an hour or so drive from Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.

Save Our State, chaired by Almond and financed largely by Rhode Island’s two existing slot halls – Lincoln Park and Newport Grand – spent about USD 3 million urging voters to reject the measure. Narragansett Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas, addressing supporters gathered at a West Warwick hotel, suggested that the tribe was not giving up. “You knock us down, we’re going to get right back up,” he said.

Voters leaving the polls Tuesday said the casino question had been a major topic of discussion in recent weeks.

The proposed USD 1 billion resort casino project called for a 500-room hotel, 3,500 slot machines and 150 table games. The casino was expected to capture a significant chunk of the roughly USD 900 million that Rhode Island and Massachusetts gamblers spend in Connecticut, according to one study.

The casino would have created 3,800 permanent full-time jobs. Harrah’s estimated it would pay the state USD 144 million in taxes – on gaming revenues of USD 560 million – by 2012, its third year of operation. Harrah’s had also said it would pay Rhode Island USD 100 million for a gaming license. The Narragansetts would have received 5 percent of the casino’s revenues after taxes, or about USD 20.8 million in the third year. The ballot measure specified that tax revenue generated by the casino would be used to offset property taxes.

The Narragansetts’ fight to enter the gaming business began in 1991, when the tribe proposed a high-stakes bingo hall. Unlike the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegans in neighboring Connecticut, the Narragansetts were excluded from operating a casino on its land in Charlestown by an amendment pushed through Congress in 1996 by the late Senator John Chafee, a Rhode Island Republican.