Carcieri has 'major concerns' about RI casino bill

June 16, 2010

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PROVIDENCE, R.I.—Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri said Wednesday he has "major concerns" about a bill that would ask voters to allow the state's two slot parlors to convert into full-scale casinos.

The Republican governor told WPRO-AM that he and his staff would meet Wednesday and Thursday to go over the details of the bill, which was approved last week by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly. His spokeswoman, Amy Kempe, said he was likely to make a decision on whether to sign or veto it late this week or early next week.

Rhode Island currently only allows gambling through video lottery terminals at Twin River in Lincoln and at Newport Grand in Newport. The state gets about 60 cents of every dollar lost at the video slots, representing a huge source of money for the state's cash-strapped budget. The legislation was proposed as Massachusetts is considering legalizing casino gambling, including one plan to put a casino just over the border in Fall River.

The legislation authorizes a referendum that asks voters whether Twin River and Newport Grand should be allowed to expand to table games. The host community also would have to approve any expansion.

While the legislation passed the House with a veto-proof majority of 62-12, it was closer in the Senate, passing 21-14.

Among Carcieri's concerns are whether the bill bypasses city control over what happens in a local community. While Lincoln has indicated a willingness to let Twin River expand into table games, leaders from Newport, including Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed, oppose expansion there.

Carcieri said that would raise possible constitutional concerns because cities have the right to control themselves.

"That's a serious issue that needs to be looked at," he said.

He also said he wants more specifics on how much of a cut the state would get from table games.

House spokesman Larry Berman said the amount the state would get would be decided later, and that the legislation abides by the constitution.

"If the voters say they want it, then I'm sure there would be negotiations as to how things would proceed from there," he said. "It still needs the approval of the voters of the home community."