Seeds of Defeat for Casino Question

Governor Carcieri today vetoed a bill that would give voters the chance to decide whether the Twin River and Newport Grand slot parlors should be expanded to full-scale casinos. The General Assembly may yet override that veto and place the matter on the ballot. And voters may be amenable to a gambling expansion, given Massachusetts' strong moves toward casino gambling.

But in the governor's veto message is the seed of an argument that could, for the second time in four years, torpedo a Rhode Island push for full-scale casino gaming.

Rhode Island voters, readers will recall, last rejected a call for casinos in 2006. The anti-casino forces mustered a very clever campaign that year. They knew they would lose a debate on the virtues of gambling and the potential for economic development; gambling is popular, after all, and the allure of jobs is too great. Instead, they focused on the terms of a deal that was to bring Harrah's to the state. It was, they argued, a "no bid" deal that focused on "rewriting" the constitution for the benefit of a Las Vegas company.

Carcieri, in his veto message of the new casino referendum bill, focuses on process, too. He argues, among other things, that the state should not put the question to voters before it strikes a deal determining how much Smith Hill would get from the poker and craps games that would be added to the Twin River and Newport Grand floors. If officials are forced to make a deal after voters have approved casino gambling, he argues, they will have significantly less leverage.

It is a legitimate concern. And a potent argument to voters. The question, as I noted in a piece in December on the prospects for casino gambling in the state, is whether the opposition will have the resources - and the political savvy - to make that kind of argument effectively.

Last time, the state's two slot parlors bankrolled the opposition to casino gambling; the proposal, after all, was to bring in an outside entity for a competing gambling venue. This time, Twin River and Newport Grand would stand to gain by the gambling expansion and would be the strongest supporters of the referendum.

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