Guest MINDSETTER™ Dean Lees Jr.: Just Say No to Expanding Twin River
Saturday, October 06, 2012
Lincoln will soon be facing a financial crisis if they do not heed the warning signs of the gambling referendum that will be before them this November’s election! It is with great urgency that Lincoln voters understand the ramifications of this referendum and the public officials that have brought this undue stress before them.
In reading the Valley Breeze a couple of weeks ago, I found certain comments from some of our state legislatures of extreme concern to me. In the Representative races, House Representatives have been quoted as saying, "my obligation and my fiduciary responsibility" that the legislation "provide the best outcome for the town should it pass” and “Lincoln’s 7 million dollar gaming revenue share will be protected.”
So I ask, what is that outcome? Has anyone asked? Does anyone know what will happen to the Town if the Referendum was to pass? Has anyone found it odd that the same Town Council that proposed the gambling question is the same council that voted against it in 2007?
On October 4, the Town Council will have what they call an “informational hearing” on the expansion plans of Twin River. I question the sincerity and validity of this meeting due to the fact the Town Council voted to put the gambling referendum on the ballot last year, with no informational hearing or plan proposed by Twin River! This is like booking a cruise and receiving a brochure in the mail when you return as to what the vacation will entail. Lincoln has rules/policies for handling such issues that our officials have failed to comply with.
Lincoln’s Comprehensive Plan under the Economic Development Element states that, “Any future use of this site (Twin River) shall decrease, not maintain or increase, the current impacts that the existing video gambling and wagering facility has on surrounding residential areas.” The Comprehensive Plan is designed to provide a basis for rational decision-making regarding the long-term physical development of the municipality. The definition of goals and policies relative to the distribution of future land uses, both public and private, forms the basis for land use decisions to guide the overall physical, economic, and social development of the municipality (Rhode Island General Laws, 45-22.2-5).
Further, all municipal land use decisions shall be in conformance with the locally-adopted municipal comprehensive plan (R.I.G.L. 45-22.2-13 Compliance and Implementation). Due to the seriousness of this issue, any discussion falls within the jurisdiction of the Area of Planning and Concern Committee.
This committee, which the Administrator sits on, is charged with having public hearings where issues, such as Twin River, can be heard and discussed when a greater impact on the community as a whole, or the immediate surrounding neighborhoods, if left to private development or redevelopment (Lincoln Town Code 260-44). As astonishing as this, the committee never had a meeting; Twin River never submitted a plan for review prior to the council asking for a gambling referendum question.
It is crucial for Lincoln voters to understand what is going to happen if Lincoln voters approve the gambling question: It will not offer any new gambling revenue for the people of Lincoln. In fact, Lincoln was completely written out of receiving any table game revenue whatsoever, putting the Town of Lincoln into an awful position in having to compete with the State for gambling revenue. While Lincoln would still receive its 1.5 % of the Video Lottery Terminals, those machines will be competing with table game and other forms of Class 3 gambling. Is this a good deal for the voters of Lincoln?
In addition, our House Representatives also stated that “four years of the slippage provision will provide increases to the town it would not ordinarily have, which can "smooth" the transition.”. Transition to what?
This slippage clause in the statute would offer Lincoln residents up to 1% of table game revenue for just four years if Lincoln were to be faced with a shortfall. This statement shows that Lincoln would, in fact, be facing a financial crisis in just 4 years’ time. This slippage clause is nothing more than a confusing bait and switch scheme of receiving gambling revenue short term and a promise of a tax increase to come.
Understanding that, Lincoln’s very own budgetary process is presented each year with a 5-year outlook as to what to expect both for revenues and expenditures. How is Lincoln to overcome this hurdle? Why would our local and Lincoln state officials put us in this awful position?
In the past, Lincoln voters voted time after time in rejecting gambling in Lincoln. As recently as 2007, voters rejected it by 60% town wide with 68% rejecting in Saylesville and 71% in Lime Rock. With this mandate, the Lincoln Town Council sent resolution 07-44 to the General Assembly proposed by our current council president, stating that gambling would effect on both the immediate neighborhood surrounding this facility as well as the entire town, further stating that they were opposed to any expansion of gambling.
This was approved by the council in a 5-0 vote! Just because Massachusetts might develop casinos is not a reason to cause undue harm against Lincoln’s neighborhoods as the council President had stated in his own resolution. At the time of this resolution, Massachusetts was considering casinos however that did not stop Councilman Macksoud from stating he was opposed to any increase in the types of gambling allowed at Twin River.
When the last gambling referendum took place, our Town Administrator had also opposed expanded hours of operation and further stated that he felt bound by the referendum (of no increase of gambling) and opposed the increase of Twin River hours of operations/
It is important for Lincoln’s voters not to be intimidated. For years, state and local officials have said that we may lose revenue to other states and that we need to compete. With Foxwoods facing an over 2.3 billion dollar deficit, Mohegan Sun laying off 346 employees and Vegas Casinos in the red, these only show me that gambling is not the answer to compete with other states, nor to put false hopes on increasing our revenues to manage our ever-failing economy.
In the end, regardless of peoples’ views on gambling, our public officials have failed miserably in listening to the Lincoln voter’s wishes and have put Lincoln on a course of financial instability. However there is a silver lining…RI State law gives the sole power to Lincoln and Newport residents with the final say as to whether full gambling is to be allowed.
With this understanding, why would state officials write Lincoln and Newport out of receiving new gambling revenue when, in fact, they need their votes for approval? Therefore, as the election fast approaches, send a strong message at the ballot box that Lincoln voters will not be taken advantage of nor played for fools when it comes to their financial stability.
Dean Lees Jr. is a former Lincoln Town Council President.
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