Was the General Assembly Controlling the Narragansetts’ Casino Choice All Along?
According to the Warwick Beacon‘s Russell J. Moore, the Rhode Island legislature is planning to revisit the gambling issue in the 2008 legislative session. The decision is unsurprising, in light of the State of Massachusetts’ apparent plans to allow casinos to be built there…
Larry Berman, a spokesperson for Rhode Island House Speaker William Murphy, said the House is poised to take up the gambling issue when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.What is at least a tad surprising is Mr. Berman’s description of the casino process that ended last year with the rejection of a constitutional amedment that would have permitted the establishment of a single destination casino in West Warwick. The language of the amendment led people to believe that it was the Narragansett Indians who would be choosing the casino operator for Rhode Island…
“Come January, when the legislature comes back into session, Speaker Murphy would like to do everything we can to protect Rhode Island’s gambling revenues,” said Berman.
“He wants to have Rhode Island in a position where, if Massachusetts were to bring out three casinos, we’ll be able to respond to that.”
With respect to Massachusetts’ plan, and its emphasis on inviting gambling companies to bid for the licenses, Berman said the legislature sent out feelers before going forward with the Harrah’s/Narragansett Indian casino deal, and Harrah’s was the only bidder interested. It wasn’t until late in the process that casino mogul Donald Trump came forward with a plan that lacked details, and would have held up the process, Berman said.
Notwithstanding sections 15 and 22 of this Article, and provided that a majority of the electors of the Town of West Warwick have voted to approve this amendment, the establishment of a resort casino and games located therein is authorized in the Town of West Warwick. The resort casino shall be privately owned and privately operated by a business entity established pursuant to Rhode Island law by the Narragansett Indian Tribe and its chosen partner, which entity shall be: (i) legally distinct and separate from the Narragansett Indian Tribe, (ii) subject to the laws of the state of Rhode Island, including regulation and taxation, and (iii) required in its organizing documents to expressly waive any sovereign immunity relating to any and all matters of the resort casino, including compliance with and enforcement of the laws of the state of Rhode Island, and the regulation and taxation thereof. The per annum tax rate shall be established by the general assembly with all of such tax proceeds to be dedicated to property-tax relief, as prescribed by statuteAccording to Mr. Berman, however, the legislature was directly dealing with multiple casino operators, early on the process. What good were those “feelers” that the legislature — not the Narragansett Indian tribe, according to Mr. Berman — was putting out, if the legislature lacked the power to influence or even control the Narragansetts’ choice?