2006-10-05 / Front Page

Islanders not betting on casino question

By Sam Bari

The controversial Question Number One on the upcoming Nov. 6 ballot appears to inspire questions that Jamestown residents feel need to be answered before they can cast a responsible vote.

Many ask why we aren't voting on whether we even want a single destination casino anywhere in Rhode Island. Others want to know if rewriting our constitution to satisfy an agreement offered by an out-of-state enterprise is a good idea. Those asking, think not.

Opponents of the agreement want to know why Harrah's, the casino company making the agreement with the Narragansett Indian tribe, is insisting on disclosing the details of the deal on "their timetable," not anyone else's. Most think that attitude is arrogant and raises many red flags.

Proponents feel that the Narragansetts deserve encouragement and support in their efforts to open a casino. However, they are not sure that the arrangement with Harrah's and amending the constitution is the best way to accomplish that goal.

"I don't think we should be changing our constitution before we decide if we want a casino in Rhode Island," said Chamber of Commerce President Charlie Petit.

"A single destination casino will kill many small businesses that rely on tourist dollars," said Chuck Masso, owner of Chopmist Charlie's, a popular Jamestown eatery. "I'm on the board of directors of Save Our State, and I strongly oppose the amendment. A casino will not only hurt small businesses, hotels, and restaurants, it will dry up the labor pool in the hospitality industry throughout the state. It will eliminate more jobs than it produces," Masso added.

"There are many more negatives than positives to the Harrah's offer," said Richard Cotter of Seaside Drive.

"Do we really want a big casino in Rhode Island?" asked Jamestown resident Dr. Kris Kennedy, a professor of mathematics at Bryant University. "I've attended conventions and business conferences in the gambling and casino centers around the country - Atlantic City, New Jersey, as well as Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada. I found the neighborhoods immediately surrounding the strip of casinos in both Atlantic City and Reno very undesirable. Many people refer to Las Vegas as Sin City. I don't think we want to be perceived in that light. I think we should seriously consider the changes that could occur if we elect to support the establishment of a big casino in our state before we make any decisions about altering our constitution. I'd also like to know the details of the agreement between Harrah's and the Narragansett Tribe before casting a ballot," she added.

"Why not?" said Jamestowner Greg Welch. "It will create jobs, and if the ads are correct, we could save money on property tax. Although, I'm not all that well informed about how that is supposed to work," he said.

"Both sides left out key points and obfuscated the details in their advertising," said Jeff Hunter, a Jamestown resident and professor of business studies at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. "Opposing sides empha- sized points that supported their agendas. The advertising campaigns were very partisan and self-serving. Consumers have to be extremely astute to figure out what will result from the outcome of the vote. Will we be denying the Narragansett tribe an opportunity if we vote against it, or, will we do a disservice to the taxpayers if we pass it? The advertising is causing me to feel victimized by disinformation. I don't know how I'm going to vote. I feel it is my responsibility and the responsibility of every voting citizen to do our homework and get the facts - all of the facts, before we visit the polls," Hunter added.

In a press release on Sept. 25 Governor Donald L. Carcieri said that Harrah's Casino would destroy jobs as well as state revenues. He said that the recently released Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council or RIPEC report indicated that Rhode Island stands to lose at least $1.1 billion over 10 years as a result of the Harrah's casino in West Warwick.

"For the last several years, Harrah's has bombarded Rhode Island with false propaganda about how much we have to gain financially from a casino," Carcieri continued. "This report puts those lies to rest once and for all. The only people who will gain from a Harrah's casino are Harrah's shareholders and Harrah's executives in Las Vegas.

"While claiming that they'd create millions of dollars in 'new revenues' for the state, Harrah's public relations wizards conveniently forgot to mention the billions of dollars in state revenues their casino would actually eliminate," Carcieri said. "Every Rhode Islander should keep in mind that we're not talking about the 'state's' money; we're talking about your money. The message to Rhode Island taxpayers is clear: For every dime the casino puts in your pocket, Harrah's will be stealing a dollar from your wallet. That's a deal that Rhode Island can't afford.

"Just like Harrah's has claimed that they will be giving the state $144 million each year in new revenues, they have also asserted that they will be creating hundreds of new jobs," the Governor said. "Much like their revenue argument, the problem with Harrah's job claims is simple: They don't take into account the hundreds of Rhode Island jobs that their casino will kill.

"Rhode Island's tourism and hospitality industry would be devastated by a casino," Carcieri continued. "Instead of spending money at our existing restaurants and tourist destinations, many people will lose their money at a Harrah's casino. At the end of the day, Rhode Island would lose far more jobs than we'd gain.

"Finally, this report should be a wake up call to every public official that supported the Harrah's casino referendum," Governor Carcieri concluded. "I hope those officials will be the ones to step

forward to propose the billion dollars in state budget cuts that will be necessary if the casino they helped put on the ballot becomes a reality. And if that happens, I hope that they are prepared to explain to the thousands of Rhode Islanders who depend on the services that are funded by these dollars why they supported a critical step in the process of giving that money away."

The question asked most is about the amendment itself. Jamestowners want to know the wording of the amendment, and exactly what they are voting for or against. In addition, they want to know the details of the agreement between Harrah's and the Narragansetts as well as the agreement between the casino and the state. A voter information booklet has been mailed to all registered voters.

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