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Court says tribe can continue gaming appeal

The Rhode Island Supreme Court has ruled that the Narragansett Tribe can continue its appeal of the legality of expanded gambling in the state. The tribe has tried for decades to open its own casino, first on tribal land in Charlestown, then later at other venues in the state.

The ruling last month was handed down after the tribe had twice asked the state court to issue advisory opinions concerning the tribe’s efforts to establish casino gambling.

In both cases, judges rejected the tribe’s claims that proposed legislation contained constitutional defects.

Following failed attempts in 2006, the tribe proposed an amendment to the Rhode Island constitution to establish gaming. The amendment was defeated in a referendum. The constitutional amendment cited by judges prohibited “all lotteries in the state” except those specifically operated by the state.

The tribe then asked the Superior Court in 2011 to declare as unconstitutional the 2012 ballot question asking whether the Twin River gaming location in Lincoln should be allowed to expand by offering table games.

In referendums, voters in Lincoln approved table games at Twin River, and Newport residents later rejected the same request for Newport Grand.

A Superior Court judge in 2012 ruled that the Narragansetts had standing to initiate a lawsuit, but did not prove the state had violated the constitution. The state has continued to assert that the tribe has not been hurt by the establishment of expanded gaming, particularly noting that the Narragansetts receive a portion of the Twin River Casino’s returns on video lottery terminals.

The ruling Dec. 4 does not address the constitutional issues, but does allow the tribe to pursue claims that it may have been harmed financially by the expansion of Twin River.

“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,” the ruling said.

The tribe is allowed to collect up to $10 million from proceeds from the video terminals.

According to information contained in the nine-page decision, Twin River reduced the number of video machines when it expanded to include table games. The report indicates the introduction of table games has resulted in a slight loss in video lottery profits.

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