By Rebecca Keister
PBN Contributing Writer
PROVIDENCE – Previous initiatives to open a full-fledged casino in Rhode Island failed because of a lack of government support, according to those pushing voters to approve two such initiatives this November.
“Governor [Lincoln] Almond and Governor [Donald L.] Carcieri were against casino gambling,” Richard Licht, director of the Department of Administration, told members of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce at a policy forum Tuesday. “I don’t think you’re going to see the same political atmosphere this time around.”
Roughly 50 people attended the chamber’s panel discussion, which included Twin River Board of Directors Chairman John Taylor and New England Cable News reporter Peter Howe.
Two questions will appear on this year’s ballot, asking voters if they favor allowing Twin River in Lincoln and Newport Grand in Newport to run table games in addition to their slot machines.
The approval of table games is a move the companies say is necessary to keep them competitive with existing resort casinos in Connecticut and proposed developments in Massachusetts, which now have the legal go-ahead to push through.
Voters last turned down a casino proposal by the Narragansett Indian tribe in 2006.
“Full casino gaming in Massachusetts was always a question of when, not if, for us,” Taylor said. “We’re talking about remaining a viable part of the hospitality and tourism industry.”
The state estimates that it stands to gain about $100 million in revenue by allowing table games at Twin River. Gambling is the state’s third-largest revenue generator, according to the chamber.
Howe cautioned that Massachusetts could be three to four years away from opening the doors on its first casino and that while up to three have been approved for licensing there, that doesn’t mean three will open.
“The good news for the state of Rhode Island is that the longer it takes [Massachusetts], the more [proactive] we can be,” Taylor said.