2006-09-28 / Editorial

Another view on the casino statewide ballot question

By Robert Morton-Ranney

It is unhelpful to use generic anti-gambling arguments to fight the proposed casino in West Warwick.

Thus far, the bulk of the funding for the kaleidoscopic coalition of naysayers huddled under the banner of "Save Our State" has come from the two gambling facilities we already have - Lincoln Park and Newport Grand.

Lottery tickets of bewildering variety are sold in virtually every convenience store throughout the Plantations, and the government of the state we're supposed to save uses a good portion of their proceeds as partial substitute for the tax obligations of people who have already demonstrated they can afford their own homes.

Gambling is here and our ruling infrastructure has embraced it with all available arms.

And lotteries are not necessarily less enticing than full-bore casinos. My favorite story on that count is of the man in Ontario (yes, Virginia, there really is something beyond Buffalo) who, some 30 years ago, sold his home and spent all of the $50,000 he received on tickets for a provincially sponsored lottery.

He lost.

Gambling is not the problem. It's not the only part of life that offers potentially unhealthy temptations. More spinach, anyone?

Nor does it court the risk of certain doom each and every time it is undertaken. One can visit Foxwoods and spend, including transportation, less than the cost of a good meal.

Gambling is simply hoping you'll get a little more out than you're willing to put in.

It seems to me there are two overall questions to focus on. One is the economic impact of such a facility on Rhode Island in general and West Warwick in particular. This is not at all clear.

The report of the Rhode Island Special House Commission to Study Gaming, submitted on April 1, 2003, said that "Quantifying the economic development potential of expanded gambling is a complex project."

Qu'elle surprise!

Even Save Our State cannot be unqualified. Their Web site says they "are concerned with the potential overall economic harm, and specific damage to our tourism and hospitality industry, that a casino will cause."

Well, the difference between 'potential' and 'actual' can be very large.

Save Our State also lists their concern about an "out-of-state" operation setting up shop here.

The idea that not letting people or organizations into Rhode Island because they are from out-of-state is ridiculous on its face.

My favorite, however, is this. "Save Our State, Inc., welcomes all Rhode Islanders to join with us in voicing opposition to amending our Constitution, the repository of the basic rights securing our liberty and freedom."

Constitutions include within their pages the provision for future amendment.

They are living documents and, as such, they are supposed to be changed when new circumstances within the bodies they respectively govern require it.

I'm not arguing this means that giving Harrah's the green light is a good thing. Let's just be sure we know why we're deciding whatever it is we're going to decide.

The second overall question, and the far more important one, is how the Narragansett Indian tribe can be helped toward its own goals for economic and social development.

Surely we can come up with something better than letting them have a piece of a casino.

I want to hear economists debating the ins and outs of Question 1.

I don't want to hear Lincoln Almond recycling stories about down-and-outers in Las Vegas or church officials talking about the road to perdition.

Nor do I want Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas knowing or unknowingly appealing to the guilt within anybody who has a sense of the history of this country and the treatment of the people who were here first.

Let's hear from the economic experts what a casino might do. And let's figure out how everyone living in this beautiful corner of the universe can get a fair shake in its future.

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