Narragansett Indian Tribe says it’s out of casino race

'We don't have gaming on our radar right now.'

Timing can be everything and that seems to be the case for the long-suffering Narragansett Indian Tribe and its quest to open a casino in Rhode Island – a battle the tribe appears to have all but abandoned while competitors with more prominent political support and a more advantageous set of economic circumstances begin to take it on. More

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Narragansett Indian Tribe says it’s out of casino race

'We don't have gaming on our radar right now.'

PBN FILE PHOTO/STEPHANIE EWENS
GIVING UP: Narragansett Indian Tribe Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas says that 'we don't have gaming on our radar right now,' something the tribe has been actively trying to gain for years, including during its very public 2006 venture with Harrah's that fell short of the votes it needed in a statewide ballot question in 2006.
Posted 4/2/12

Timing can be everything and that seems to be the case for the long-suffering Narragansett Indian Tribe and its quest to open a casino in Rhode Island – a battle the tribe appears to have all but abandoned while competitors with more prominent political support and a more advantageous set of economic circumstances begin to take it on.

“You can only ask the same question so many times,” Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas told Providence Business News. “I guess squeezed out is as good a term as any. The support isn’t there [and] we don’t have gaming on our radar right now.”

“Squeezed out” is the term many might use to explain the tribe’s seemingly abrupt departure from the Rhode Island casino ring after the state legislature approved allowing voters to determine whether Twin River can become a full-fledged casino by adding table games – something the tribe had vigorously pursued for years. A similar proposal benefiting Newport Grand is pending in the Senate.

To other observers, however, the situation is the inevitable outcome of the tribe continually being blocked politically and never quite selling state residents on the economic incentives of allowing gambling.

While the tribe has made legal maneuvers to try to block the November vote, Thomas insists that’s about fairness – not an attempt to keep its own casino chances alive.

“It’s unfortunate that [they] have been cut out of this given the tremendous disadvantages they’ve suffered,” said Maureen Moakley, a professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island. “It was timing. They’ve been shut out in an environment where there could have been some redress of the [difficulties] they’ve endured over the long haul. Frankly, it’s a tragedy.”

The tribe’s public struggle began in the early 1990s when the early success of Foxwoods casino in nearby southeastern Connecticut inspired momentum to build one in Rhode Island, with warnings that the state was losing out with residents going there to gamble and, in time, to stay the weekend, dine out and shop.

Announcing its intention to build a full-scale resort casino on its 1,800 acres of land in Charlestown, the tribe began fighting to regain regulatory control of that land, which was put under state regulation in 1978 as part of the federal Rhode Island Indian Claims Settlement Act.

The land was put under restriction – barring the tribe from operating it as a separate entity for gambling – just before the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act passed in 1988.

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