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Rhode Island rolls the dice

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If the tensions in Massachusetts over casino legislation seemed high, it’s really nothing compared to the time Rhode Island is having trying to stem the impending financial calamity that will come with expanded Bay State gambling.

As it was becoming clear that Massachusetts would pass gambling legislation last year, Rhode Island lawmakers approved a referendum for this fall’s ballot authorizing expanded gambling in one of the state’s two slots parlors, Twin River in Lincoln. A separate question to allow a casino at Newport Grand was added earlier this year. The state’s General Assembly wrangled over tax rates for any new revenue generated by the games this week, suggesting confidence that the measures will pass despite the fact that voters defeated an expanded gambling question six years ago.

The Ocean State, still home to the second highest unemployment rate in the country, is dependent on the tax revenue that its slot parlors generate, which makes up the third largest source of state revenue. Ted Nesi at WPRI (NBC10) has some telling charts laying out Rhode Island’s increasing dependence on gambling revenue, with one showing that Rhode Island stands to lose hundreds of millions in the coming years due to competition from Massachusetts.

If Rhode Island’s measures pass, the state will likely see table games before Massachusetts, but once the resort-style destination casinos open in the Bay State, all bets are off as to how Rhode Island will fare.

Meanwhile, Maine this month opened New England’s sixth casino, fueling speculation that New Hampshire will soon follow suit with some sort of expanded gambling plan. Of the six New England states, only Vermont and New Hampshire still prohibit slots and casinos.

Casino industry experts said this week that Massachusetts’ “underserved” market can support three casinos and a slot parlor. But places such as Atlantic City and Foxwoods are struggling recently in part because of casino proliferation across the Northeast, and the phenomenon is just beginning here. 

                                                                                                                                            --CHRISTINA PRIGNANO

BEACON HILL

CommonWealth reports Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary is eyeing an $170 million project similar to Post Office Square that includes building a park over the Storrow Drive parking lot, constructing a 1,000-car underground garage, and possibly extending its offices over the Charles Street extension. The project would require the Legislature to approve a bill to lease the land back to Mass. Eye and Ear, which the hospital already leases in a sweetheart deal that was the focus of a previous CommonWealth story.

The Globe reports that Lt. Gov. Tim Murray was questioned under oath last week by state and federal investigators who are looking into the activities of disgraced former Chelsea Housing Authority chief Michael McLaughlin, a top Murray political supporter.

Advocates of an expanded bottle bill will have to wait another year as a legislative committee sends the measure to die in a study, CommonWealth reports.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Two troubled Lawrence bars are handed suspensions from the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, the Eagle Tribune reports.

A public school in Lunenberg is set to close after residents failed to approve a Proposition 2 ½ override that would have sent roughly $1 million to Lunenberg schools.

CASINOS

Secretary of State William Galvin tells Keller@Large limiting the vote on a Suffolk Downs casino to the East Boston neighborhood only may be unconstitutional. The chief rival to the Suffolk casino threatens to sue if Boston’s vote isn’t citywide.

In this week’s Back Story, Paul McMorrow explains how a New York scandal sheds light on differing Massachusetts rules for tribal, commercial casino operators.

ELECTION 2012

President Obama and Mitt Romney both gave speeches in Ohio on the economy, but any commonalities ended there.   

The American Spectator looks at Mitt Romney’s attempts to be Mr. Right.

Columnist Brian McGrory says enough already with Scott Brown’s substance-free campaign.  Meanwhile, a Globe news story suggests both Brown and Elizabeth Warren are failing to elevate the campaign debate to the full range of important issues that should be its focus.

Everyone is fixated on the Massachusetts Senate race, but The Republican says another race to watch is in Maine, where former governor Angus King, an independent, is running to replace Olympia Snowe.

Where did this bipartisan, moderate Jeb Bush come from?

FISHING

Sen. John Kerry inserted an amendment into a farm bill that would make commercial fishermen eligible for disaster relief loans.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The MetroWest Daily News laments the decline in summer jobs for teenagers.

EDUCATION

Teachers and school officials in Fall River have reached a tentative agreement on two new contracts, one that is retroactive but contains no raises, after nearly two years since the old one lapsed.

HEALTH CARE

The members of a conference committee that will reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions of the health payment reform bill were named yesterday, the Gloucester Times reports.

TRANSPORTATION

A new report finds that only one-third of riders in bikeshare programs are likely to wear helmets compared to more than 70 percent of commuters who ride private bikes for commuting.

The Salem News praises plans to mitigate traffic problems caused by opening a casino at Suffolk Downs, but also calls for more public transportation options from the North Shore into the city.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

New documents show that Federal Aviation Administration employees felt pressured to approve Cape Wind despite their reservations about the project.

The solar power industry is going strong thanks to a jump in installations.

NSTAR is taking criticism for its so-called “vegetation management program” that involves cutting down trees nearby high voltage power lines. Critics call the program overkill, reports WBUR.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A Norton woman walking her dogs on New Year’s Eve who was shot by an off-duty state trooper mistaking her for a deer has filed suit against the officer, who is also now facing criminal charges from the Massachusetts Environmental Police.

Two Revere residents plead guilty to selling counterfeit MBTA passes worth millions of dollars, the Daily Item of Lynn reports.

MEDIA

On Greater Boston, investigative reporter Russ Baker talks about the selective release of classified documents regarding Watergate, the JFK assassination, 9/11, and others.

The Neiman Lab asks what will happen to New Orleans once the Times-Picayune stops publishing daily, and looks to a similar situation in Detroit. The impact of a community newspaper loss was examined in CommonWealth’s 15th anniversary issue.

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