Editorial: Casino reform

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The decision between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney won’t be the only important one for Rhode Islanders on the ballot sheet come Nov. 6. Rhode Island’s ongoing efforts to sustain and ultimately grow the state economy have led to two crucial ballot measures, which will be featured on the state ballot this Election Day. According to a recent Herald article, the first two questions on the ballot will address opening “state-operated full-scale casino gambling” in Rhode Island’s two major casinos, Twin River Casino in Lincoln and Newport Grand in Newport. While we think voting yes on these questions is necessary  for Rhode Islanders, we endorse this expansion of gambling only with a strong degree of caution. 

The facts of the matter make it seem increasingly likely that Rhode Islanders will vote yes on the two casino measures. According to a Brown survey of registered voters likely to vote next month, 57.3 percent plan to support question one while 55.6 percent responded that they would support question two. In purely economic terms, the expansion of casinos in Rhode Island sounds like a solid argument. 

With the casino expansion, assuming that it is a successful one, jobs should be created by the influx of added revenue from the establishment of table games in the two casinos. Presumably, the inclusion of table games in Lincoln and Newport will enable the state to sustain its out-of-state customers, such as those from Massachusetts and Connecticut. Taking into consideration the casino reform Massachusetts is planning to institute in the next few years, we believe it is important for Rhode Island to remain competitive with our northern neighbors.

But while the economic argument is certainly reasonable, it rests on a large number of assumptions. If the measures do not pass, we do not think the casinos will subsequently fail. And we do not believe voting down the measures will seriously devastate casino employment. The Rhode Island Statewide Coalition estimates that in the worst-case scenario, if just question 1 is rejected, only a maximum of 400 jobs will be cut in the next five years. Moreover, Twin River spokeswoman Patti Doyle claimed that with added table games, no jobs would be cut. This statement is not very comforting. One of the primary reasons the questions would be approved in the first place is that they would guarantee job creation and not simply ward off future job cuts.

We also cannot forget from whom these casinos are obtaining money before and even after these questions are voted on. Ideally, these casinos should attract many financially stable, risk-calculated customers from Rhode Island and outside the state, such as those from Massachusetts. However, the “win big” mindset these casinos display will undoubtedly attract problem gamblers who do not have a full grasp of their financial limitations. Ultimately, this will lead to more losses through gambling than these people can afford. The notion that the casinos’ primary means of income is through the losses of its customers is quite a disturbing one. In addition, if these casinos garner their revenue from problem gamblers and the poor, are we not just redistributing income in the state from the ones who need it the most? 

Rhode Island is a state. We are not a city that needs to be defined by luxury and a “win big” attitude. We are a small but cohesive state that has much to gain from the approval of questions one and two. Though we think voting yes on both questions is necessary at this point for Rhode Island, we are concerned the state is compromising its identity for increased revenue. It is up to voters to decide what issues matter most to them. 




Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.