Rhode Island The Only Northeastern US State To Approve Expanded Land-Based Gambling

Land-Based Gambling Expansion Proposals (Mostly) Strike Out With Voters

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The polarization of the presidential race and the uncertainty surrounding a Donald Trump presidency have overshadowed the results of many down-ballot races and referendum questions.

In addition to choosing the president and congressional representatives, voters across the nation were tasked with deciding a number of important local ballot issues.

Topics ranged from marijuana legalization to Online Poker Report’s ballot issue of choice: gambling expansion.

Here’s how the gaming referendums on 2016 state ballots fared.

Massachusetts rejects a second slot parlor license

Fresh off a 2014 referendum that would have fully repealed the state’s 2011 Massachusetts Expanded Gaming Act, Massachusetts voters were confronted with a less consequential gaming referendum in 2016.

A “yes” vote on Question 1  would grant the Massachusetts Gaming Commission the power to approve a second slot parlor license in the state. A “no” vote would keep the number of licenses as is: one slot parlor and three casino licenses.

The measure was easily defeated, with 60 percent of Massachusetts voters rejecting the proposal.

Why did it fail?

Massachusetts voters may be suffering from gambling fatigue, as gambling has been in the news virtually nonstop for five years.

Despite the Expanded Gambling Act passing in 2011, only the Plainridge Park Casino slots parlor is open for business.

As for the casinos, there have been a number of local fights over their final locations. The casinos have run into other setbacks, including:

  • local share fights with surrounding communities
  • the 2014 repeal attempt
  • a lawsuit filed by Taunton residents against the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, that has stopped construction on the First Light Casino in its tracks.

Add to this the recent kerfuffle over daily fantasy sports, and talk about legalizing online lottery and/or online casinos, and it’s not hard to see why voters rejected the measure.

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Rhode Island ok’s new casino project in Tiverton

Massachusetts voters may have rejected a second slot parlor, but they will see a new casino built just over the state’s southern border in Rhode Island.

In a very close vote (both statewide and locally) Rhode Islanders approved a new casino in the border town of Tiverton. Tiverton abuts the Massachusetts city of Fall River, which sits in the southeast portion of the state.

The ballot referendum, Question 1 in Rhode Island, was passed statewide by a 55/45 margin, and by a closer 52/48 margin locally — a vote separated by just 366 votes.

The ballot measure was backed by Twin River Management Group, which owns and operates the Twin River Casino in Lincoln, Rhode Island, and the Newport Grand Casino.

In 2014, Twin River tried to expand gambling at the Newport Grand, but local voters rejected the proposal. Plan B was to shutter the Newport Grand and transfer the gaming license to the Tiverton casino — Rhode Island law allows for up to two casino licenses.

This is exactly what the 2016 referendum does.

Why did it pass?

Without expanded gaming and amenities (table games and a hotel) the Newport Grand Casino’s days were numbered, and local residents have shown little interest in expanded gaming.

Furthermore, Rhode Island is facing increased competition from Massachusetts, where a significant number of Twin Rivers patrons reside. Massachusetts will open billion-dollar casinos in 2018 and 2019, and without grabbing a new market, Rhode Island’s gaming revenue would likely tank.

The location of the Tiverton casino is interesting, as the casino that was supposed to serve the southeast corner of Massachusetts, First Light Casino, is now up in the air. That means the Tiverton casino will have the area all to itself.

New Jersey resoundingly rejects North Jersey casinos

Even further south, New Jersey voters decided to reject a proposal to authorize up to two destination casinos outside Atlantic City. Under current New Jersey law, casino gambling is limited to the boardwalk city.

The final vote on Question 1 in New Jersey wasn’t even close, as residents rejected the ballot measure by a nearly four-to-one margin.

Interestingly, a significant amount of the revenue these casinos would generate was earmarked for Atlantic City revitalization.

However, the opposition focused on the negative impact the new casinos would have on Atlantic City, along with the usual concerns of increased problem gambling and the like, and its message clearly hit home.

Why did it fail?

North Jersey casino expansion is seen by many as an arms race the state simply can’t win, and instead of solving the problem of cannibalization from out of state, New Jersey would in effect be cannibalizing AC from within.

It’s a complex issue, with a lot of conjecture and speculation coming from both sides. We took a deeper dive into the referendum and what the next steps are for supporters of North Jersey casino expansion in this column.

Image Credit: Aspen Photo / Shutterstock.com

- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.
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