Lawsuit Against 2012 Casino Referendum: Do the Narragansett Have a Point?

The ProJo’s Kathy Gregg reports. (All emphasis added.)

In a lawsuit filed in Superior Court on Wednesday, the tribe contends the law calling for the referendum is both “unconstitutional and vague.”


The tribe hung its legal argument on the same requirement in the state Constitution that tripped up its first two efforts to get a Harrah’s-backed casino proposal for West Warwick on the state ballot. It says: “All lotteries shall be prohibited in the State except lotteries operated by the State,” which has been broadly interpreted to include most traditional games of chance at a casino.

The 2012 referendum for a casino, which passed the General Assembly last session as Article 25 of the budget bill (starting at Page 306) does, indeed, specify that the casino shall be at “Twin Rivers” in Lincoln.
Isn’t Twin Rivers a privately owned facility on privately owned land? So how did the General Assembly address the requirement that (paraphrasing the Constitution) all lotteries shall be operated by the State?
The excerpts below from Article 25 starts on Page 307. Please note in particular the section in bold.

42-61.2-2.1. State authorized to operate casino gaming. — (a) State -operated casino gaming shall be authorized at the facility of the licensed video lottery terminal retailer known as “Twin River” located in the town of Lincoln; provided, that the requirements of Article VI, Section 22 of the Rhode Island Constitution are met with respect to said facility at the general election next held after enactment of this section. …
(2) Pursuant to Article VI, Section 15 of the Rhode Island Constitution and the specific powers, authorities and safeguards set forth in subsection (c) herein in connection with the operation of casino gaming, the state shall have full operational control over the specified location at which casino gaming shall be conducted

The lawsuit by the Narragansett points out that

The voters of the State of Rhode Island are being asked to vote on … the expansion of gaming without any definition of what state operation of this expansion will consist of, what specific table games are going to be operated and what entity or personnel are going to operate them.
The statute is unconstitutional because the State must have the power to make decisions about all aspects of the functioning of any state casino, and this statute either provides no standard at all or allows a private entity unconstitutional control over certain aspects of the operation of the casino.

Permit me to note here that, on a personal level, I oppose casinos, lotteries and all gambling, whoever runs them. I’ll once again be voting “No” to a casino at the ballot box next year. You can close everything up and let the state suck wind for that revenue, for all I care.
However, there appears to be a major question of consistency here. How would a “state operated” casino in a privately/Narragansett owned facility on privately owned land in Charlestown or – that paragon of good and responsible government – West Warwick have differed from a “state operated” casino in a privately owned facility on privately owned land in Lincoln? Couldn’t the State have just as easily had (quoting the law for the Lincoln location)

full operational control over the specified location

for a facility owned by the Narragansett tribe?

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12 years ago

The state has no business in the gambling business.If the the state has the right,then we all have the right to open our own casinos,run our own lotteries or poker games or whatever.
This is absurd.

12 years ago

It’s hard for me not to support state-run gambling as a truly voluntary form of taxation, although I would like the right to gamble for private citizens as well. I personally think it’s stupid, self-destructive behavior, but it is not the role of a free society to determine what others may do in voluntary transactions. My only caveat would be that the funds from state-run casinos be used to offset taxation elsewhere rather than supplement it.

12 years ago

The answer to the question posed is that it doesn’t differ. What differs is that the Narragansetts are not and have never been “in” with the pols of the RI General Assembly, RI Governors or our congressional delegation. The State appears to have been treating the Narragansetts as an adversary since they were granted sovereign nation status decades ago. The reason for such treatment?

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