2014-05-29 / Front Page

Casino Question Advances

By Barry Bridges

After hearing a presentation from developers and entertaining over two dozen spirited public comments on both sides of the issue, the Newport City Council passed a resolution on Wednesday, May 28, asking that the Rhode Island General Assembly include a question on the November ballot for voters to decide whether table games should be introduced at Newport Grand.

The decision carried 4 to 3, with Mayor Henry Winthrop and Councilors Marco Camacho, Jeanne-Marie Napolitano, and Naomi Neville forming the majority. Winthrop and Napolitano explained that their decisions were based largely on their belief that voters should be given the opportunity to express their opinions at the ballot box. Camacho was confident that the resolution’s provisions concerning a constitutional amendment to limit the casino to its present location would give the city the power of “containment.”

Councilor Justin McLaughlin voted against the measure, emphasizing that investors and new companies are not drawn to communities with casinos. “We should be investing in 21st century jobs, not in something that is not a growth industry,” he stated. Councilors Michael Farley and Kathryn Leonard joined McLaughlin in the nay column. Leonard said, “This is not a long-term solution for making Newport a place for people to visit.” Farley commented that his thinking on the issue had evolved, but in the end he would not support the proposal because of its necessary involvement with the legislature.

Developers are proposing to redevelop Newport Grand through an infusion of $40 million. They envision bringing table games such as blackjack and roulette to the facility and making other capital improvements to create a “mixed use entertainment center.”

Prior to the vote, investor Joseph Paolino addressed the council and emphasized the efforts being made by Massachusetts to bring casinos there. “Newport needs to build an economic engine,” he said. In response to criticism that the city does not need the types of jobs created by casinos, Paolino asserted that “we need every job in this city and every job in this state” while noting that his plans for the property could potentially add hundreds of jobs. He also reminded councilors of increased income and sales taxes that would be generated.

Under Rhode Island law, voters statewide, as well as those in Newport, must give the OK before state-operated casino gaming can be added at Newport Grand. The resolution from City Council was the necessary first step in bringing the issue to the ballot this year.

In 2012, a similar ballot question was supported across the state but was defeated in Newport. The most recent effort once again faced opposition from many individuals and organizations such as Citizens Concerned About Casino Gambling. But supporters have said that the proposed investments have changed the landscape and present a different situation than that voted upon two years ago. They have also reiterated the importance of Newport Grand as a source of jobs and revenue to the city.

A sticking point for some was the question of whether the casino could possibly be relocated from its present site at 150 Admiral Kalbfus Road by action of the General Assembly. Addressing this concern, Rhode Island Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed and Representative Marvin Abney wrote to the City Council, advising that if a resolution requesting a ballot question passed, they would work for an amendment to the Rhode Island Constitution to ensure that the casino’s location could not be changed by future legislation. According to the legislators, before any table games arrive at Newport Grand, voters will also have to approve the constitutional question limiting the casino to its present address.

This language was incorporated into the final version of the resolution passed by the council.

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