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Narragansett Tribe sues to block Rhode Island gambling referendum

TAGs: rhode island, Twin River casino

tribe chiefAs we saw in California, often times the biggest hurdle to legislation for new forms of gambling whether it be online or in the form of commercial gambling expansion, is competing interests and not opponents to gambling. That’s what the state of New York seems destined for.

After having their efforts to open Rhode Island’s first full scale casino, the Narragansett Indian Tribe has gone to court to try to prevent the privately owned Twin River slot parlor in Lincoln from winning that distinction in a November 2012 referendum.

Before heading home for the summer in June, state lawmakers approved legislation calling for the statewide vote that Twin River’s owners were seeking on their bid to add blackjack and other traditional casino games currently banned in Rhode Island to their gambling menu. However, the legislation did not specify how much the state would get in return for the award of this first casino license in Rhode Island.

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

It appears the Narragansett Indian Tribe believes the state may have a couple of tricks up their sleeves. It’s known that New York has been considering gambling expansion in the form of commercial casinos and the tribe hung its legal argument on the same requirement in the state Constitution that shut down its first two efforts to get a Harrah’s-backed casino proposal for West Warwick on the state ballot.

According to the constitution: “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.

In its plea, the tribe said: “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.”

Twin River spokeswoman Patti Doyle declined to comment.

The tribe is seeking a declaratory judgment on the constitutionality of the law and the referendum question. Additionally, the tribe maintains the position that the privately owned Twin River is not being held to the same legal or political standard.

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