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'Groundbreaking' casino debated

As state legislators debate the idea of building a destination casino in Quonset Point, North Kingston, business leaders and residents of the city remain unconcerned about the prospect. The casino would be the first of its kind in Rhode Island.

Rep. John Carnevale, D-Providence and Johnston, and Rep. Joseph Trillo, R-Warwick, announced earlier this month their intent to introduce a bill in the Rhode Island General Assembly that would allow a casino to be built at Quonset/Davisville Port. Opening a casino in North Kingstown "could be one of the biggest economic development projects that the state ever undertook," with the potential to bring in more than 20,000 jobs, Trillo said. There are currently two casinos in Rhode Island, but they do not have table games.

The Rhode Island Senate leadership of both parties swiftly released a joint statement opposing the idea due to concerns that a casino would impede economic development in the area. Building a casino in Quonset Point, a community with about 9,000 jobs and 168 businesses, would make companies hesitant to expand in the area, said Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio, D-Providence and North Providence.

Current jobs at Quonset Point are generally high-paying, with wages around 20 to 40 dollars per hour. This compares  to the lower $15,000 salary, excluding tips, which casino workers typically make, Ruggerio said. Ruggerio serves on a commission that examines economic development in industrial port towns, according to a press release.

Trillo said concerns about the casino harming the city's economic potential are "a smokescreen put up by the (Not In My Backyard advocates) in that area."

The casino would be built on the Davisville side of North Kingstown and would not be visible to businesses in Quonset Point, such as General Dynamics, Trillo said. He added that Rhode Island needs "bigger and better" facilities to prevent losing potential gaming revenue to neighboring states.

"If you go to a casino like Foxwoods (in Conn.), you will see at least 1,000 cars from Rhode Island who are bringing money out of the state," he said.

Ruggerio supports allowing tables at Rhode Island's existing two casinos, but believes that a third casino would hurt their business.

"I am not opposed to the expansion of games in Rhode Island, especially with everything going on in Massachusetts right now," Ruggerio said.

Typically, full-scale casinos are about 150 acres, but the parcels of land available at Quonset Point comprise only half that size.

Locals said until they see a written proposal, they remain skeptical about the plans. With the Senate leaders' disapproval, the idea for a casino is a "moot point," said David Preston, spokesperson for the Quonset Business Corporation, a state public entity that manages the Quonset Development Corporation.

Even if representatives made an official proposal or introduced legislation, "casinos are not a topic that our corporation spends a lot of time or money reviewing," Preston said.

Elizabeth Dolan, town council president of North Kingstown, said she was uncertain whether Trillo was aware of the lack of land left to develop in Quonset Point and Davisville.

"I cannot think of any property in the Davisville area that could be used for a casino," she said. "We haven't seen anything in writing so that's why we as a council and as a town haven't really taken anything seriously."

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