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Leaf Home arrow The News arrow North East News arrow Court rules Narragansetts can continue appeal on legality of expanded gambling
Court rules Narragansetts can continue appeal on legality of expanded gambling
Written by Administrator   
Tuesday, 14 January 2014
Court rules Narragansetts can continue appeal on legality of expanded gambling
Bob Thayer/The Providence Journal
January 10, 2014

PROVIDENCE — The Rhode Island Supreme Court said in a ruling released Friday that the Narragansett Indian tribe can continue its appeal regarding the legality of expanded gambling in Rhode Island.

The tribe asked a state court in September 2011 to declare as unconstitutional the 2012 ballot question on whether to allow the Twin River slot parlor to install table games such as blackjack, poker and roulette.

The tribe, in the lawsuit filed in Superior Court in Washington County, noted that the state Supreme Court had twice spoken on the tribe’s own efforts to open a full-scale casino in the state. Each time the justices focused their opinions on a provision in the state Constitution that states: “All lotteries shall be prohibited in the State except lotteries operated by the State.”

The tribe claimed the privately held Twin River was not being held to the same legal standard. It also asserted that the state law authorizing the referendum was vague — provided no operating standards — and unconstitutional — by delegating certain legislative powers to a private body. In May 2012, a Superior Court judge ruled the tribe had standing to bring the lawsuit, but that it had failed to prove that the “Casino Acts,” as they were called, violated the state Constitution.

Despite the Narragansetts’ appeal of that ruling, two referendums went before voters — one asking to expand gambling at Twin River, the other to expand gambling at Newport Grand.

State and local voters in Lincoln approved the addition of table games to the Twin River casino. Newport voters rejected the expansion.

The Narragansetts, who have striven for more than two decades to establish a tribal gambling facility in Rhode Island, continued their appeal. The state continued to press its stance that the tribe was unharmed by the expansion at Twin River, and thus was in no position to sue.

The Supreme Court justices did not rule this week on whether the tribe’s constitutional arguments have merit, only that the Narragansetts demonstrated that they potentially have been harmed by the Twin River expansion.

The ruling notes that tribe receives 0.17 percent of net terminal income from video-lottery terminals, or slot machines, in the state. (The income is capped at $10 million annually.)

The nine-page ruling states, “The reasonable likelihood that the Tribe will suffer a reduction in income from the VLT machines is sufficient to support a finding that the Tribe has suffered an injury in fact.”

For that reason, the justices noted, “We find the state’s contention to be without merit.”

Recent returns from Twin River may support the tribe’s argument.

Twin River reduced the number of its VLTs by 200 in 2013, when it installed the table games.

The state’s share of revenues from the VLTs has dropped since the table games arrived — even as revenue from those new table games continues to rise.

According to the Rhode Island Lottery, the Narragansetts were paid $803,465 in fiscal 2013.

In fiscal 2014, they are projected to receive $821,270. However, the tribe has received less — approximately $76 less — at this point in the fiscal year than it did in fiscal 2013.

In fiscal 2015, the tribe is projected to receive $836,400.

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