Russell Moore: Gambling is an Economic Development

Monday, December 02, 2013


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It's fitting as the Christmas Season is begins, our neighbors to the north are considering handing Rhode Island the best gift we could ask for from them--the repeal of their casino law!

To the ire of many Bay Staters, the Massachusetts state legislature passed, and Governor Deval Patrick signed into law, a bill allowing three casinos and one slot parlor to be built up in 2011. It was very bad news for Rhode Island.

Studies have shown that somewhere around 40 percent of all Lincoln's Twin River patrons are from Massachusetts. The fact that Massachusetts was looking to get into the casino business in a big way may have irked some Massachusetts residents, but it also put a rightful scare into Rhode Island's leaders.

We Rely On Gaming Revenue

Here's why. It's no secret that the state of Rhode Island relies heavily on gambling. Love it or hate it, gambling revenue isn't used for one-time projects or luxuries in Rhode Island. The gaming revenue is used to balance the budget and pay for necessary social services and pay our state workers.

To combat the expected drop in revenue that would occur once the Massachusetts casinos and slot parlor open, the state did smart move, it sought to approve table games at Twin River and Newport Grand. The state voters overwhelmingly went along with the proposal for table games at both, and the Lincoln residents did as well. The Newport residents, however, much to the dismay of gamblers and most of the state's residents, decided that they could very well do without having table games at Newport Grand.

Would Mass. Voters just say no?

That's precisely what may happen in Massachusetts. The state of Massachusetts, unlike Rhode Island, still has the Athenian tradition of direct democracy in place--otherwise known as voter initiative. That means a group of citizens can organize and collect a certain number of signatures--in their case, 90,000. That's precisely what happened.

These citizens have placed the wheels in motion to put a question on the ballot that would repeal the casino law that the Massachusetts legislature passed in 2011. There is a bump in the road, however, as Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has argued that the fees paid by the companies that applied for the casino licenses represent a contract with the state. Contracts cannot be superseded by voter referendum.

But the attorney general's argument is no sure thing and some legal experts believe that the voter initiative to repeal the casino bill will go forth. This should be sweet music to the ears of Rhode Island citizens. It would mean the state would be able to continue to capture its gaming revenues.

And none can deny how much we need our gaming revenues. In the previous fiscal year, the state raked in roughly $320 million in revenue from video slot terminals alone. The addition of table games at Twin River haven't yet been in operation for a full year, but all the indications and reports show that table games will be a financial boon to Rhode Island. So much so, in fact, that the company that owns Twin River has decided to add additional table games.

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Expand gaming further

It's my contention that Rhode Islanders should do everything possible---even if that means just pray that Massachusetts voters repeal their casino law.

It's very well possible, given recent history, that that may very well happen should the voter initiative go before voters. After all, Massachusetts voters in East Boston, Palmer, and Milford all rejected proposals to build casinos in those communities, despite the fact that supporters outspent casino opponents by large margins.

This would not only protect the current gaming revenue the state of Rhode Island is receiving, but it would open the door for the state to capture more.

Are we in?

There's an old saying about commerce--either you're in a certain business, or you're not. In other words: go big, or go home.

That's why former Governor Donald Carcieri always irked me with his half-pregnant attitude towards gaming. The former Governor always argued that he was in favor of protecting the revenue from the gambling we already had when he took office, but didn't want any additional forms of gambling. What was perhaps most illogical about the position was the fact that video lottery terminals (aka slots) are considered the "crack cocaine" of gambling. In other words, they're the most addictive, and therefore most dangerous form.

His illogical position set us back at least 5 years. In reality, gambling is a form of economic development that Rhode Island was, and in a way, still is in a unique position to capitalize on. Anyone who thinks differently apparently has never been to Las Vegas, Nevada.

When the state is involved in gambling it makes sure anyone who gambles is an adult. And adults have the freewill and intellect to make their own choices. And that freewill should be respected. Gambling takes place in the Bible and will take place regardless of whether or not its legal. So its best for all parties involved if it is regulated and taxed.

Time to go even bigger

What the state should be doing, is precisely the opposite of what Governor Carcieri recommended. Rhode Island should start being creative in looking for ways to expand gambling.

The state should consider proposals to make sports betting legal in Rhode Island. That move would bring in sports betters from all over the region to place bets on college and professional sports. It would help our tourism industry in ways that haven't even yet been considered.

Further, no one can deny how much the game of poker has boomed in the last decade. Given the fact that Twin River has made a business decision to not offer poker, the state of Rhode Island could open a few poker rooms throughout the state of Rhode Island. It would provide more jobs and tax revenues.

And whatever happened to Governor Lincoln Chafee's horse racing track that he was advocating for several years ago. Like so many other proposals, that seems to have simply fallen by the wayside. Now that Building 19 is closing, why not consider reopening a small version of Narragansett Park in my hometown of Pawtucket?

The state legislature made a wise and prudent move by expanding our gaming economy. It's time to double-down.

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A native Rhode Islander, Russell J. Moore is a graduate of Providence College and St. Raphael Academy. He worked as a news reporter for 7 years (2004-2010), 5 of which with The Warwick Beacon, focusing on government. He continues to keep a close eye on the inner workings of Rhode Islands state and local governments.


Related Slideshow: 10 Questions Fung Has to Answer When Running for Gov of RI

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10) Can Fung raise the money necessary to be competitive?

At the last reporting period, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung's campaign had only $336,000.


Ken Block had $540,000 and he just entered the race.  


Democrat Gina Raimondo has over $2.3 million and even Angel Taveras has $759,000 cash on hand.

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9) Is Fung ready for prime time?

Fung is well-liked in Cranston and most everyone thinks Fung is a "nice guy."


Gina Raimondo and Angel Taveras can claim they took on tough issues.


Ken Block articulates big ideas and a proven record in business, but out of the gate Fung's campaign seems less than ready.


Fung's campaign manager got confused about how many Democrats Fung has  donated to and his motivation for donating to them. 


Would another four years in Cranston be the wiser path?

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8) Can Fung effectively run against Angel Taveras?

Fung claims Providence Mayor Angel Taveras as a close friend, but it raises questions about inherent personal conflicts and ability to run and effective race.


Politics in Rhode Island is often a blood sport, will Fung approve that knockout punch TV spot in the closing weeks that tags Taveras for the spiraling crime problem in Providence?

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7) Is Fung's base big enough?

For Mayor Fung, his base is Cranston, but he does not enjoy a groundswell of Hispanic voters like Providence Mayor Angel Taveras hopes to bank on (7% of the voters were Hispanic in the General Election in 2012, according to Pew Research).


A race against Raimondo would be tough as she would very likely have a strong block of female voters.


Where does Fung get his votes?

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6) Can Fung defend the tax increases in Cranston?

When Fung runs as a Republican against a Democrat, there is an advantage if Fung can point out a differentiation of fiscal discipline. Fung, as Mayor, had numerous and significant residential and commercial tax increases.


This will not help him against the fiscally prudent Ken Block, but even if he were to win the primary then he would lose the advantage against Angel Taveras in a General Election. Both have ushered large tax increases through their councils.

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5) Why pledge to create "20,000 jobs"? It sounds like Don Carcieri.

Don't know if Fung was paying attention, but GOP Governor Don Carcieri ran on...creating 20,000 new jobs. 


When Carcieri left office, Rhode Island had the worst unemployment in America. Not sure Fung wants to mirror that Carcieri pledge.

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4) Defending Don Carcieri and making him a part of the campaign - is that a good idea?

The collapse of 38 Studios has scarred Don Carcieri's legacy as Governor of Rhode Island. At best, Carcieri was star struck to give a baseball player $75 million -- at worse, Carcieri was part of something far more ominous.


For Fung, who wants to run as the future of Rhode Island, why be associated with Don Carcieri?

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3) Defending the lobbyist role?

In 2014, do we think Rhode Islanders will be looking for a former lobbyist for a large corporation that is cutting Rhode Islander's jobs to be our next Governor?


Lobbyist-turned-Governor will be tougher to pull off than actor Ronald Reagan-turned-Governor of California in the 1960's.

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2) Understand the changing position on gay marriage?

Hard to know what Allan Fung's position is on gay marriage. At different times he offered a range of views.


Some GOP primary voters have been opposed to the RI law and others were supportive, but neither segment of the GOP may understand what his position was -- or is.  

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1) Political donations to local, federal and national Democrats - are you sure you are a Republican?

Fung has given to David Cicilline, US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, former RI Senate President Bill Irons and once RI Attorney General Patrick Lynch. Fung's campaign manager claims he was a lobbyist and needed to donate to Democratic leaders.  Cicilline, Reid and Lynch meet none of those criteria.  


Not only did Fung give thousands of his own dollars to Dems, he turned down requests from leading GOP candidates like John Robitalle and Jon Loughlin who were badly outspent and needed every dollar to win.


The Republican party in Rhode Island is a pretty small group trying to create a pretty big tent - from Scott Avedisian to Doreen Costa. For most Republicans in this state it is tough -- you don't enjoy the political connections and you're part of a tiny minority -- so loyalty matters.


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