RI Supreme Court: Harrah/Narragansett Casino not Legal
Looks like it’s back to the drawing board for Harrah’s and the Narragansett Tribe as the RI Supreme Court has concluded that the latest casino proposal doesn’t pass constitutional muster:
A bill that would allow the Narragansett Indians to open a casino on nontribal land does not pass constitutional muster, the state Supreme Court said in an advisory opinion today, responding to a request by legislators who crafted the bill.
In its opinion, the court said the measure fails to satisfy a provision of the state constitution that requires any lotteries in Rhode Island to be state-run.
Las Vegas-based Harrah’s Entertainment and the Narragansett Indian Tribe are seeking to build a casino in Rhode Island, off their tribal lands in Charlestown. Lawyers presented oral arguments last month to a three-justice panel of the state’s highest court.
The opinion said the legislation would leave the state Lottery Division without control over the proposed casino, including the types of table games played there and the extension of credit to gamblers.
Without direct authority over those parts of the operation, the justices wrote, “the state simply cannot in good faith be said to be operating the casino.”
The justices note that the proposed legislation did give the state more power — including the ability to direct daily revenue, set the odds of winning and determine the number of table games and video lottery terminals — than a bill introduced last year. But they said it was not enough to comply with the state constitution.
“To summarize, we interpret the proposed Casino Act as granting to the Lottery Division the power to make decisions concerning many, but not all, operational aspects of the gaming enterprise,” the opinion reads. . .
The tribe has tried for more than a decade to get approval to build a casino.
A year ago last August, the high court derailed a Harrah’s-Narragansett casino proposal for West Warwick as it was headed to the state ballot after clearing the General Assembly and surviving a gubernatorial veto.
Responding then to an advisory opinion request from Governor Carcieri, the court said the casino legislation and referenda question ran afoul of a requirement in the state Constitution that all “lotteries” be state-operated.
To remove this legal barrier, the casino’s legislative backers introduced a new version of the bill this year.
It recast the proposed West Warwick casino as state-operated, to be run by the Narragansetts and their chosen partner under a contract with the state Lottery Commission.
Under the aegis of House Speaker William J. Murphy, of West Warwick, the House voted to seek the court’s opinion first this time, before voting.
Carcieri praised the court’s opinion today, saying Harrah’s had put forward an “unconstitutional scheme.”
“For two years in a row, the Rhode Island Supreme Court has ruled the Harrah’s casino legislation unconstitutional,” the governor said in a statement. “I have said all along that this is nothing but a Harrah’s casino. For the second time in a row, the Supreme Court has agreed with me.”
I’d still feel better if the Governor hadn’t hatched the pragmatic but ideologically inconistent plan of expanding Lincoln Park. Nonetheless, so long as we can keep the seemingly “painless” and get-rich-quick option of increased gambling revenue from the hands of our state politicians, the better chance we have of them pursuing other, more sound, avenues of economic development.