Casino Opponents: Strange Bedfellows
Harrah’s is spending $106,000 a day and still can’t move the poll numbers. Rhode Island College’s Bureau of Government Research and Services has released a poll that indicates 56% of likely voters oppose the casino, 33% support it and 10% are undecided. This is in line with the Brown University poll last month that had it 55% against to 36% for. All that money and no movement. Why? According to Darrell West
“All these millions are being spent on an electorate where 90 percent of the people have already made up their minds,” West said. “They don’t seem to be getting a lot of bang for their buck.”
West said people tend to make up their minds early with “hot button” issues such as gambling, abortion and gay rights. Those undecided at this point are the least likely to vote, he said.
I think he’s right. Which is why Harrah’s and Chief Sachem Thomas are trying to undermine the credibility of Save Our State–and it’s titular head former Gov. Lincoln Almond–by questioning who is supporting SOS in the hope of casting them as hypocrites. In a letter written by Thomas to Almond (PDF provided by Dan Yorke), Thomas “exposes” the owners of Newport Grand, Lincoln Park, Mohegan Sun, Foxwoods as those–out of state gambling interests all–who have put money into SOS. True, but I don’t think that Thomas’ tactic will work.
The bottom line is that many people oppose the casino for different reasons. Other casinos and gaming establishments don’t want competition. The same goes for many other businesses like restaurants and concert halls like PPAC or “The Dunk.” Theirs’ is opposition based on economic self-interest.
Then there are those who oppose it because it smacks of a “special deal” and insider politics. They also think they state could get a better deal with competitive bidding. I’d call these the good (or smart) government types.
Finally, there are those who oppose it because they simply think that gambling isn’t a good thing, much less something to be relied upon for funding state programs. These are generally “casino conservatives” and even a few “nimbys”.
In general, these groups may not agree on many other issues. In fact, most of these small businesses, good government folks, “casino conservatives,” and nimby’s would probably oppose any expansion of gambling in Rhode Island–even if the beneficaries would be their current (temporary) allies from the other gaming companies. These gaming companies may have the money, but the other groups that oppose Harrah’s have most of the votes. They joined together based on their opposition to Harrah’s. That doesn’t mean that they will stay together forever, much less past November 7th.
Dan Yorke has postulated that there will be a full-fledged casino at Lincoln Park within the next few years. Maybe, maybe not–but one thing for sure is that many of Lincoln Park’s current allies against Harrah’s will turn around and fight just as hard against Lincoln Park should it try to expand its gaming footprint. Politics is about coalition building after all. As the issues change, so will the coalitions. It’s not hypocritical–it’s politics.
Thus, I think that Chief Thomas’ hypocrisy allegations have neither exposed anything new nor will they change many minds. As the aforementioned polls indicate, the position of the electorate has chrystalized already and most people are opposed to a Harrah’s casino. During the course of this debate, the disparate groups who oppose the Casino have become well acquainted with those with whom they’ve jumped into the Save Our State bed. And they rightly regard the relationship that they’ve developed with each other for what it really is: a one night stand, not a marriage.