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Paiva Weed spooked by Newport casino vote?

September 20, 2012

Rhode Island voters have twice turned down the chance to bring Las Vegas style casinos in the Ocean State. RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay says things will probably be different this year.

Rhode Island once had a vigorous anti-casino movement whose members lobbied at the State House and campaigned across the state. Our state once had an anti-casino governor, Republican Lincoln Almond, who considered state promotion of gambling little more than a cheap tax on the poor. The state’s media, led by the Providence Journal, once editorialized against the expansion of gambling.

Voters agreed with the anti-casino sentiment. In 1994, by a narrow margin, and in 2006, by an overwhelming vote, Rhode Islanders rejected casino proposals in statewide referenda.

Times have changed. Almond was replaced by another Republican governor, Donald Carcieri, who presided over the addition of thousands of video slot machines in Newport and Lincoln in the largest expansion of gambling in the state’s history. Connecticut’s Indian tribe gambling casinos flourished and expanded, drawing thousands of Rhode Islanders risking their money on slot machines and table games.  The media, including the ProJo, have turned into cheerleaders for the casino industry and its lucrative advertising.

Then Massachusetts decided to get into this business. As early as next fall,  Massachusetts is expected to hand out licenses for three large destination-style casinos, one of them designated for a mere dice toss away from Rhode Island’s border in southeastern Massachusetts. First dibs on this location are held by the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian tribe for a site in Taunton, a few miles down Route 44 from the Rhode Island line.

And the Bay State will also be deciding where to place a sprawling slot machine emporium. A major contender for slots is the foundering Plainridge race track in Plainville, which is a short ride from Rhode Island’s Lincoln slot parlor at Twin River.

Now, gambling tax money from the slots at Lincoln and Newport represent the third largest source of   revenue to support state government and local school aid, after sales and income taxes. And hundreds of citizens earn their living separating gamblers from their money at the Newport Grand and especially at Twin River, the slot-machine and second-hand smoke palace.

With Massachusetts about to join Connecticut in building fancy casinos, Rhode Island politicians are eager to protect the $300 million in annual taxes harvested at Lincoln and Newport from P.T. Barnum’s observation that a sucker is born every minute.

So in November our state’s voters will face a ballot item that would allow full-fledged casinos at the slot parlors. And voters in Newport and Lincoln will consider local votes to allow this new gambling expansion.

The political landscape has shifted for many reasons. The casino industry’s relentless pr and advertising campaigns have morphed gambling from a sleazy enterprise perpetuated by mobbed-up bookies into upscale entertainment enjoyed by the “wonder of it all’’  Hollywood-handsome couples in the Foxwoods television commercials. In this fantasy world nobody loses their home or marriage to gambling addiction; everybody wins at the roulette tables and dances the night away to the Four Tops farewell tour.

State government has become addicted to the money generated by gamblers – the social problem downside be damned. In a society where voters want top government services but don’t want to pay for them, gambling money allows politicians to brag that they can hand out more government goodies without raising broad-based taxes.

And the anti-casino movement in our state has faded into the background, except for a hardy band of Newport citizens organized by the Rev. Eugene McKenna, a retired Roman Catholic priest, as Citizens Concerned About Casino Gambling. While the battle against casinos is over in most of Rhode Island, in Newport the anti-casino group fights on.

McKenna doesn’t mince words. State-sponsored casino gambling makes the government a “predator on its own people.’’ And he and his group question why Newport needs table games, blackjack and roulette wheels to attract tourists to one of America’s most storied  seaport destinations, a city marinated in history, Gilded Age mansions, tennis, sailing, shopping, golf and fine restaurants.

While the prospects are dim for anti-casino forces in Lincoln, the Newport election may be different. Don’t go looking for direction from the city’s most powerful Smith Hill political leader, state Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport.

The debate over table games at Newport Grand has spooked Paiva Weed so much that  she  won’t say how she is going to vote in her home city’s election.

Newport voters have turned back casino proposals since the 1980s. Will they do so again?

Scott MacKay’s commentary can be heard every Monday on Morning Edition at 6:40 and 8:40. You can also follow his political analysis and reporting at the `On Politics’ web site at RIPR.org

14 Comments leave one →
  1. Sal Cordeiro permalink
    September 20, 2012 6:00 pm

    Teresa Paiva Weed was at a Newport dining/drinking establishment on Broadway with Newport Grand lobbyist Christopher Boyle on Sunday evening, September 23rd.. Just sayin’.

    • Mike Warner permalink
      September 20, 2012 9:45 pm

      Wow! You’ve got to be kidding me.

      • Mike Warner permalink
        September 21, 2012 12:14 am

        Didn’t Teresa Paiva Weed work for the law firm that represents Newport Grand? Moore. Virgadamo & Lynch, I believe. It used to be Moore, Virgadamo, BOYLE & Lynch if memory serves me well.
        Ah…..as this small world of ours turns.

      • frank landry permalink
        September 21, 2012 4:02 pm

        Frank landry
        Senator weed is a woman of high class and integrity. Mr. Boyle and the senator have known each other for along time. That is the end of it. Two life long friends having dinner. Please keep opinions and character assasination
        Out of this very important process and debate. He who is without sin can throw the first stone.

    • volunteer permalink
      September 21, 2012 1:23 pm

      How could the Senate President be seen on Sunday evening, September 23rd, with lobbyist Christopher Boyle, when I am typing this reply on Friday, September 21st?

    • September 21, 2012 1:28 pm

      Gee Sal, you must be clairvoyant, because you predicted that meeting between Weed and Boyle on the 20th of September (3 days in advance). Now, please tell us how the Casino table game referendum is going to turn out on November 6th…

      • Sal Cordeiro permalink
        September 21, 2012 9:49 pm

        I wish I could Surfin RI. Sorry, my mistake. It was September 16.

  2. Mike Warner permalink
    September 22, 2012 6:16 am

    Hi Frank,
    No character assassination intended, just mentioning a few facts.
    Just a couple of old friends having dinner, I’m sure your right.
    But, given the importance of this issue, the small size of our state and fact that many RI citizens view our political landscape with a jaundiced eye, perhaps a small amount decorum could have been exercised and dinner rescheduled to November 7. People see stuff like this and look at what happens.
    Oh, and Sal…Next time you want to made a point about something it might be wise to get your facts straight.

  3. Mike Warner permalink
    September 22, 2012 7:02 am

    By the way Frank,
    i wish you and your union the best in your current struggle with the city. I’m aware of the issue and for what it’s worth, you have my full support.

    • frank landry permalink
      September 22, 2012 4:39 pm

      Mike,
      Thks for the support hopefully next week we can get a deal done. The issue of
      Gambling in ri has gotten very complex. I am personally opposed to it but it is already here. Our elected officials regularly dismissed the will of the people and created two casinos. The revenue stream from gambling is now almost 400
      Million dollars. In newport 200 jobs and a million dollars into newports budget per year. Do we really think we can shut it down without losing jobs and revenue that will be difficult to replace. Turning newport grand from a casino to dunkin donuts center isn’t sustainable. Just saying mike the genie is already out of the bottle.

  4. Mike Warner permalink
    September 24, 2012 6:58 pm

    Hey Frank,
    Good luck next week.
    Regarding the casino issue, most locals I’ve talked with are still against it and the ones who say there are voting yes, like you, are doing so with mixed emotions, expressing the same sentiment; “It’s already here, we need to save the jobs and the revenue”, etc..
    One of the many concerns I have is how Smith Hill has allowed Rhode Island to become so beholden to this revenue stream.
    Question 8 (the community host question) represents the first time that Newport voters have been allowed to vote our wishes regarding Newport Grand since 1973 when the Jai alai referendum was approved. In 1992 the General Assembly circumvented a public approval by voting to approve the VLT’s, operating them through the Jai Alai license which, according to them was technically not an expansion of gaming, which my opinion is ludicrous. Slowly but surely they have pinned our shoulders to the wall, forcing many people to approve something that we’ve never wanted here.
    Newport Grand paints a dire picture for Newport if Newport Grand ceases operations. But let’s look at the numbers.
    180 employees, 60% who live on the island, that’s 108 locals working there, 72 who live off island.
    30 million to the state in gaming revenue but currently only $500,000 to Newport and if we believe Newport Grand’s projection under the new arrangement that figure rises to $800,000. Less than 1 million annually to Newport for playing host to this expanded gaming.
    Twin River’s gaming revenue is 307.7 million dollars a year, ten times more Newport Grand.
    My point is: I think Newport and Rhode Island could absorb the loss if indeed Newport Grand closed ( Ironically, in her testimony to the House Finance Committee on Feb. 29, 2012, Ms. Hurley stated that Newport Grand would survive if the table games are denied but the company would have to do some “belt tightening”.)

    Table games at Twin River will most likely be approved by both RI and Lincoln. Twin River claims that with table games they will add at least 350 jobs, more than enough to absorb Newport Grand’s workforce. Also, Increased state revenue from Twin River could make up for for the possible revenue loss from Newport Grand.

    I’m not saying the situation would be totally painless. However, I ‘m not sold on forecast of Newport’s ruination without Newport Grand.
    In fact, I believe that in the long run will be be much better off.
    It would be great to see Newport’s largest undeveloped commercial parcel of land utilized to it’s full potential, employing hundreds more than currently employed there. Jobs paying a real “living wage” providing real products and services without the social ills and other downsides associated with casino gambling. Sorry for being so long winded but there is a lot to this issue.

    Best,
    Mike

    • Mister Guy permalink
      September 26, 2012 1:19 am

      Newport Grand needs Newport way more than Newport needs Newport Grand. I’m voting NO on expanding gambling in RI. It’s a road that RI doesn’t need to continue to go down.

  5. September 24, 2012 7:44 pm

    Thanks all for a vigorous debate

    • Mike Warner permalink
      September 25, 2012 6:37 am

      Thank you Scott for the insightful story.
      To cut to the chase, it appears the gambling interests and politicians in this state have loaded a gun, placed it to our foreheads, wrapped our fingers around it and are telling us we need to to pull the trigger.

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