Carcieri seeks legal opinion on casino referendum
PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Gov. Don Carcieri is taking his fight against a proposed West Warwick casino to the state Supreme Court.
On Friday, Carcieri asked the high court for an advisory opinion on the constitutionality of a casino referendum measure approved by the General Assembly.
Carcieri vetoed a bill asking voters whether Harrah's Entertainment should be allowed to build a casino in West Warwick. The Democratic-controlled legislature is expected to return from a recess to override the Republican governor's veto.
Carcieri questions whether the referendum violates the Rhode Island Constitution by allowing a casino to be operated by someone other than the state.
The governor raised the same objection when he vetoed the bill earlier this month. At the time, state Rep. Timothy Williamson, a West Warwick Democrat who is a leading casino supporter, said he thought the governor was stretching the language of the constitution, which refers to lotteries.
Gambling facilities in Lincoln and Newport are currently overseen by the state Lottery Commission and privately owned.
Under the legislation passed by the General Assembly, the casino would also be regulated by the state, and owned by Harrah's Entertainment.
Carcieri spokesman Jeff Neal said that while Rhode Island's current gambling facilities are privately owned, the state operates the video slot machines in both businesses.
The proposed casino would be regulated by the state but the video slot machines would be controlled by Harrah's.
David Yas, an attorney and editor of Rhode Island Lawyers Weekly, said that since no casino currently exists in Rhode Island and the constitution explicitly uses the word lottery, "it would be a little unusual to expect that a document such as that would cover something like a casino."
The constitution makes no mention of casinos, but states that "all lotteries shall be prohibited ... except lotteries operated by the state."
Carcieri says the state's high court has determined that a casino is a "lottery operation and facility."
Attorney General Patrick Lynch said Friday while the governor has a right to consult the Supreme Court, it may be the wrong time to ask for an advisory opinion.
"The legislation has not yet been finalized and could undergo changes that would remove the constitutional cloud to which the governor refers, he said.
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