Chafee: Narragansett idea on casino worth pursuing

Providence, Rhode Island (AP)

Gov. Lincoln Chafee said a proposal by Narragansett Indian tribe Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas to buy the Twin River slot parlor and turn it into a casino is “worth pursuing” as neighboring Massachusetts considers allowing casinos.

The tribe has tried unsuccessfully for years to open a casino. Thomas this week told The Providence Journal he believes the tribe could buy Twin River and turn it into a casino without voter approval under a federal law.

Twin River told the newspaper it’s not for sale. It has been trying to expand into table games, saying it could better compete with tribal casinos in Connecticut and better position itself if Massachusetts ultimately allows casino gambling. Such an expansion would require approval by the legislature and voters.

The gambling parlor currently gives 61 percent of its revenues to the state, but under the federal law tribes typically have to hand over 25 percent of revenues.

Chafee and Thomas are scheduled to discuss gambling this week.

Chafee, an independent, also told reporters that it could be a good time for the slot parlor’s owners to discuss the tribe possibly acquiring an ownership stake in Twin River.

Shortly after Chafee’s remarks, his spokesman, Mike Trainor, said the governor doesn’t have a position on Thomas’ proposal, although he is open to it, and believes the tribe should be included at the table during any discussion of an expansion of gambling.

“The governor will certainly listen, but we’re nowhere close to having any position on that,” Trainor said.

Thomas says his plan would lead to a quicker expansion of gambling in the state because there would be no need to wait for a statewide vote next year.

But Trainor said the plan likely would take years because the land would have to be converted into trust. He said Thomas’ plan would cost the state $100 million in annual revenue from Twin River.

“We do not see it, and we don’t think the governor sees it, as a practicable solution,” he said. “That’s not going to happen. We cannot sacrifice $100 million in state revenue in this economic climate. That would be shooting ourselves in the foot.”