October 24, 2006

The ProJo's Naive and Logically Suspect Casino Endorsement

Marc Comtois

The ProJo's endorsement of a casino displays a willingness to believe everything good about the proposal and nothing bad. That alone makes it perhaps one of the most sophomoric endorsement I've ever read. Yet, even the naivete could be dismissed if the Journal's editorial board had seen fit to mention at least once in their endorsement that approving Question 1 meant amending the RI Constitution. They didn't. In their endorsement, the ProJo ignores one of the central points of contention in the entire casino debate: that approval of Question 1 hinges on changing the State Constitution. Thus, the endorsement becomes more than a display of naivete and can only be characterized as an irresponsible and disingenuous attempt to obfuscate.

In addition to the ProJo's silence on the fact that approving a casino hinges on changing the RI Consitution, their endorsement has at least 2 examples of naivete (or amnesia) and one huge display of bad logic. Together, I think these undercut the ProJo's argument for approving a casino.

Naive Example 1:

[A casino] would also provide substantial property-tax relief: Some of the revenue from the project would be dedicated to such relief, much needed in a state with among the country's highest such levies.
The conclusions are correct, but the problem is in the premise: how much revenue is going to be dedicated to tax relief? The ProJo asks that we just believe that the General Assembly will follow through. And when confronted with funding higher pensions and pet projects, they'll still follow through, right? Of course, the ProJo also isn't troubled by the vagueness of the amendment where it states that "a portion" will be devoted to property tax relief. What if $1 were put towards it? Wouldn't that still be Constitutionally legal?

Naive Example 2:

And the casino would increase state income- and sales-tax revenue, thus reducing pressure for rises in those taxes for Rhode Islanders. That, in turn, could make it easier to draw other business to the Ocean State.
Same problem as above. Ever hear of slippage?

Logical Fallacy 1:

Many people assert that Rhode Island must not have "a casino." Too late! The proposed project would be the third casino in the state. The casinos in Lincoln and Newport are big and well established, although, it is true, they function mostly as slot-machine palaces, without the (far-more-social) card and other gambling games that the West Warwick project would have.

As for gambling itself, Rhode Island and most other states have been deep into state-sponsored betting for years -- starting with the state lotteries established in the 1970s. To complain about yet another gambling venue seems a bit disingenuous at this point.

Hm. I never realized that card games were morally superior to slot machines because they were more "social." But back to the point. Here, the ProJo tries to justify changing the RI Consitution to allow for the building of a casino and expanding gambling through a rhetorical trick and an exercise in circular logic.

First, to equate the "gaming parlors" at Lincoln Park and Newport Grand to a casino is specious. I'll grant that the long term goal of the owners of each is to expand gambling at both sites, but that isn't what the ProJo is arguing. Right now, these two establishments aren't casino's and it's an improper comparison. Not all gambling is the same.

Second, and at the heart of the ProJo argument, is the use of the time tested "hypocrisy" argument in conjunction with the rhetorical strawman. The big question I have is this: How can I (and others) be "disingenuous" if we've never agreed with state sponsored casino gambling to begin with? Rhode Island voters have voted down casinos multiple times. The ProJo assumes that because--despite the efforts of anti-gambling people--we have state-supported gambling now, we must, ipso facto, support it's expansion. If not, why, it'd be hypocritical! (Is there anything worse than being a hypocrite?). People who support the lottery or slot parlors don't have to support a big casino. To them, a big casino is a step too far. In fact, it could be argued that this is the "moderate" approach to gambling. And doesn't the ProJo usually revel in being "moderate"?

But, according to the ProJo, gambling is gambling, right?

Aw heck, I give up. The ProJo has convinced me.

So I propose that we push for legalizing sports gambling in Rhode Island. Sports betting is popular (football pools, March Madness, etc.), very "social" and the state could generate a lot of revenue by taking a piece of the action via state-run sports books. Heck, every restaurant and bar could have one in the back room. This would make them more popular and increase traffic in places like Federal Hill!

And isn't it obvious that such a move would increase jobs?

It could also help make Rhode Island THE destination of sports gamblers worldwide!!!!! Think of the boon to the tourism industry?

And there's no slippage clause associated with sports betting that I'm aware of!

So, why not, ProJo? Why stop at a mega-casino? Let's make all gambling legal. Now is not the time for half-measures. All gambling is the same, after all, right? At this time we simply can't afford to be too moralistic or "too preachy". We need more cash for our politicians to spend in an honest and forthright manner and gambling is the quickest way. Let's profit from vice! It's the only practical solution to the state's financial problems, after all, and we're doing it already.

What's that? No? Now don't be a hypocrite....

UPDATE: Dan Yorke is reviewing a decades-worth of anti-Casino Editorial pieces by the very same ProJo. Like others, Yorke is asking, "What happened? Why the 180 degree turn?" A sample of past ProJo editorials as read by Yorke (with my quick summary):

"Just Say No to Casino" 1994 - Against the economics of it vs. other options.
"No Casino" November 6, 1994 - About the inherent corruption around casinos.
"Vote No in West Warwick" June 1999 - Money spent by RIers in a casino will go out of state.
"Allow Vote on Casino" - June 6, 2000 - A big casino will raise cost of public services (police, fire), hurt local businesses, hurt the quality of life and send $ out of state. But voters should decide.
"Put Casino to Vote" June 20, 2004 - Harrah's casino would hurt RI, create a net outflow of $ and potentially fuel corruption. But voters should decide.

You get the point.

Yorke thinks that there may be a Texas connection between Belo corp. (owners of the ProJo) and one of the companies that may be bidding on Harrah's. Hmm.

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1. I second everything in your post. If the Projo Editorial Board thinks that more gambling is a plus, they still need to explain why they believe the best way to encourage more gambling is through a state granted monopoly, rather than simply legalizing gambling. You’d almost think whoever wrote the editorial has a bias towards outdated ideas of central economic planning…

2. Given the discrepancy between the RIPEC study and the Building Trades study on slippage, I suspect we’re about to add yet another layer of legislation/negotiation/litigation to the casino effort. I can’t believe that Lincoln and Newport thought they were signing on to a slippage formula that doesn’t compensate them for lost growth. I could be wrong, though.

3. For entertainment purposes only, I’m setting the over-under on the number of comments on this post at 11 1/2.

Posted by: Andrew at October 24, 2006 12:57 PM

Harrah's has bought and paid for plenty of politicians, experts and lobbyists who once said they'd never support a casino. It's not a big stretch to imagine they could buy a newspaper, too (and all the money they've spent on ads won't be going back into the Providence operation, but to Texas).
The biggest mistake Clinton ever made was to sign the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which paved for this and many other media mergers which have brought nothing but harm to Americans (and made it easier for big corporations like Harrah's to get their way).
I'd hate to be any Journal reporter having to answer questions about the endorsement from friends, family, people they deal with regularly on their beats, etc.

Posted by: Rhody at October 24, 2006 5:15 PM

For once, I actually agree with you!

Posted by: Will at October 24, 2006 5:23 PM

In the end, it will be the 14th Amendment that serves to protect the people of RI from this foolishness!

Thomas Wilson Dorr, where are you when we need you?

Posted by: Aldo at October 24, 2006 7:24 PM

I'm not overly worried about the casino question on the ballot and here's why.

HOOP #1: Get enough votes in the state to pass the amendment.

HOOP #2: Regardless of how many votes you get across the state, you still need to get a majority of votes in West Warwick.

HOOP #3: This amendment all sorts of violates the equal protection laws at both the state and federal levels.

Posted by: Greg at October 24, 2006 8:13 PM

Dear Greg,

Your hoops are interesting:

1. very tight, depends on the ground game (something SOS, due to their arrogance, doesn't have)

2. slam dunk (Mike Levesque's on the team, it must be)

3. There's one little problem: no one has standing to bring such a case. The standing issue could be in court forever on its own.

Couple of other notes to keep in mind:

Gaming is everywhere, you won't stop it. If it's not this, it's internet off shore sites with checks or the corner bookmaker or bingo or fantasy football or whatever.

The deal doesn't matter. Payroll taxes, entertainment taxes and jobs are payroll taxes, entertainment taxes and jobs. I fully admit that an Assembly could outspend "the relief". However, you have to admit that ine one vote, we could produce more total jobs than Mr. Carcieri has in 4 years.

This vote is only about location. Say no to this, wait for Mass. to file legislation, then watch BLB (Mohegan Sun) waltz into the Governor's Office and "demand protection". Then watch the new owner of Newport Grand demand "fairness". Wow, 2 casinos for 1 no vote, how cool is that??

We should make all wagering available. We do not want to lose revenue to the aforementioned gaming sites, do we??

We've changed the Constitution 3 times on this issue, one more won't hurt. Harrah's isn't even in the language of the Amendment.

There won't be that much slippage to contend with. RIPEC's study contradicts itself on numerous levels.

I disagree with the whole hypocrite thing. If you hate gaming or it's touched your life in a negative way, vote no. If you think casinos are a step too far, vote no. However, no votes do have a short term price associated. (It's not long term thanks to the Governor's, god - he's great for gaming, deal with BLB).

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at October 24, 2006 8:43 PM

The Indians could have got what they wanted simply by requesting the change of ONE word in the Constitution. They simply needed to change "...will OPERATE..." to "...will REGULATE..." in regards to the control of the casino and I think most of us would have been for that. I know I would have been.

But they had to go for some convoluted end-run back room deal that just looks like it stinks, regardless of whether it actually does because we can't trust our corrupt state government.

I'm not against a casino. I'm just against letting this incompetent General Assembly BOTCH this up by failing to send this thing out to a competitive process getting the best deal for everybody, but mostly for the taxpayers.

I couldn't care less about anything else.

Posted by: Greg at October 24, 2006 8:56 PM

Dear Greg,

Only one problem there:

The First Lincoln deal

The First Newport Deal

and every other deal, including BLB expansions, have one thing in common:

they were ALL no-bid.

How do you justify changing the rules just for the Narragansetts? That sounds a lot more like discrimination to many.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at October 24, 2006 10:14 PM

When then-Speaker Harwood ordered the tribe to dump Boyd Gaming as its partner and take on Harrah's to guarantee General Assembly backing, we all knew where this was headed.
We the taxpayers can't count on seeing much of the alleged $144 million. The only winners at this table are Harrah's, the consultants, legislative leaders who will get cushy jobs, lawyers and bond counsels. The polls say this will be defeated, but they don't reflect the depths the Harrah's crowd will sink to (or the street money they'll drop) in order to get this passed.
If you're going to Vegas or AC, play at the Trop, the Mirage, even Trump's. But Harrah's does not deserve to see another Rhode Island nickel

Posted by: Rhody at October 25, 2006 12:15 AM

"How do you justify changing the rules just for the Narragansetts? That sounds a lot more like discrimination to many."

Subtle. Trying to call me racist again, Bobby?

Posted by: Greg at October 25, 2006 7:03 AM


Why do you treat this editorial stance by the ProJo as journalistically ethical and legitimate? What should be discussed here are what outside forces motivated this state's largest newspaper to completely change course on the most highly controversial issue Rhode Island has seen in decades. As late as January of this year the ProJo opined against this deal. At issue here is not the casino. At issue here is the unethical behavior of the Providence Journal. They have no credibility left. Their boardroom and their newsroom are for $ale.

Posted by: Tim at October 25, 2006 7:25 AM

One comment in today's (10/25) Projo nicely sums up what we can expect if a casino is approved in West Warwick. It's from the story about the FBI investiging Senate President Montalbano's work for West Warwick (you know, the "forgotten" 86k in billings).

"“Stephen [Alves] mentioned that Joe [Montalbano] would be interested,” said [Jeanne Marie] DiMasi. “The FBI asked me if I thought there was anything suspicious about that, but I said, ‘No, that’s the way we do things.’ ”

Posted by: John at October 25, 2006 8:07 AM

Oh, God I hope the FBI comes in here and totally dismantles the General Assembly under the RICO Act....

Posted by: Greg at October 25, 2006 8:15 AM

>>Oh, God I hope the FBI comes in here and totally dismantles the General Assembly under the RICO Act....

Is it true that "RICO" stands for: "Rhode Island's Corrupt Organizations?"

Posted by: Tom W at October 25, 2006 9:32 AM

Listened to Dan Yorke yesterday, huh? Read the extended portion of the post and you'll see I did too. I agree that something weird is going on, but I was addressing the editorial itself, not the reasons behind the switch. Thanks for the advice on what I "should have written", though.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at October 25, 2006 9:59 AM

Dear Greg,

If racist is the charge I wish to lob in your direction, don't worry, I'm not shy.

You can be discriminatory without being racist.

Now as to your other fantasy:

Since you can't win elections, you wish for a RICO tidalwave. My response is so: you still can't win elections.

Unfortunately, for RICO to work, you need actual cimes. (Notice how the Abramhoff scandal has actually deposed members) However, for the sake of conversation, let's say we get another crooked prosecutor and this happens. In the next election, you get beat again and things resume until the next crooked prosecutor comes along.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at October 25, 2006 10:13 AM

Bobby, the fact that you don't think the General Assembly is a corrupt organization just proves how far you have your head jammed up the asses of those scumbags up there on the hill.

Posted by: Greg at October 25, 2006 10:21 AM

Tim, I respectfully disagree about the ProJo newsroom being for sale (unless the fourth-floor types are really leaning on individual reporters to slant news stories, which we have no evidence of yet). However, I agree with your critique of management, both here and in Dallas.
The newsroom has virtually no say over a newspaper's editorial stance - that's decided in the boardroom (or corporate headquarters in a faraway town). For example, if you're wondering why the JRC papers (the New Jersey-based chain that owns dailies in Pawtucket, Woonsocket, Kent County, Warwick and quite a few others nearby) all endorsed Bush in '04, that was a dictate from corporate, not the people who actually work in those offices.
There are many examples of newspaper editorial stances that seemingly contradict the reporting done by that publication. The Wall Street Journal may publish news stories that hold certain politicians to ridicule, but its op-ed page will champion those same politicians.

Posted by: Rhody at October 25, 2006 11:21 AM

Dear Greg,

Instead of wasting time with chicken little charges, and insulting friends of mine (some of whom have done more for charitable causes than you ever will), you might want to figure out a way to make your agenda palatable come election time.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at October 25, 2006 12:12 PM

Maybe you should spend less time with scumbags?

And maybe if you guys weren't out lying to the old people about how we want to poison the water and make them all eat cat food and chose to have a substantive debate on the actual issues, people would be better able to make an intelligent decision.

But no, you'd prefer that the Democrat Party maintain it's current slogan, "Idea free since 1965".

Posted by: Greg at October 25, 2006 12:34 PM

Dear Greg,

There you go again with the insults showing how bereft your own argument is.

Your only monetary policy is a tax cut, your only environmental policy is to let businesses do what they want.

The only reason you have any seats now is 9-11. In fact, Osama is your spokesperson in some districts.

If my party ever realizes that a committment to the protection of the American People is an important value, you may cease to exist. Lord knows on every other measure, your party of choice fails.

Excuse me, I shouldn't have said that. Sometimes your party of choice fails and sometimes they get bought. You can tell "Conservatism", small government and the like, ended once the checks started rolling in.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at October 25, 2006 2:09 PM

I'll insult the dirt we have running this state into the ground all day, every day while you sit there and call me a racist.

It's clear from the "Still Tax Hell Rhode Island" topic that YOUR party has all the answers, now isn't it? 75 years in charge and you've run this state right into the friggin ground.

But that's all Carcieri's fault, isn't it?

Posted by: Greg at October 25, 2006 2:24 PM

Dear Greg,

Most of our problems have to do with our size and the fact that many localities, including mine, are hyper-parochial.

If there were better ideas out there, folks would vote for them.

If you didn't constantly ask questions that racists usually do (don't you have that Catholics caused the current Islamic problem thing going for you), I wouldn't ask where you got your playbook from.

The only that is Carcieri's fault is the continual running of his mouth with no political achievements to back it up. Each state of the state address is a parade of empty promises, issues he really doesn't plan to work on anyway and insults.

If I was Republican, I would say it was Carcieri's fault that we have no candidates and will end up with less seats after two election cycles then we started with. With the 24/7 help from talk radio and the editorial pages the GOP gets, you would figure they would at least be even.

Thankfully, I'm not a Republican.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at October 25, 2006 3:07 PM

"If you didn't constantly ask questions that racists usually do (don't you have that Catholics caused the current Islamic problem thing going for you), I wouldn't ask where you got your playbook from."

Yup, that's my thing. And it's an accurate statement. Bin Laden and his wackos repeatedly refer back to the Crusades as the start of this whole thing. If mentioning that FACT makes me a racist, then mentioning that Republicans like to lower taxes must make you a communist.

Posted by: Greg at October 25, 2006 3:17 PM

Dear Greg,

It doesn't make you a racist on its own. However, when you add a bunch of things together, it allows people to ask whether you might make choices based on ethnicity.

No statement, even a racist one, makes the utterer a racist by itself.

For the record, had Islam had an enlightenment like we did, where you separate church from state, that wouldn't have a lot of the problems that they do now which cause their behavior.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at October 25, 2006 4:06 PM

Sounds like you're saying that people that practive Islam aren't enlightened. Isn't that racist of you?

Posted by: Greg at October 25, 2006 4:08 PM

Dear Greg,

Please don't confused an historical term, the Enlightenment, with a condition of mind, being enlightened.

One only needs to look at patent statistics to begin to realize I'm on to something.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at October 25, 2006 5:04 PM

I had assumed the ProJo editorial had been prompted by visions of potential advertising revenue from the casino. (Plus perhaps a desire to punish Rhode Islanders for having had the audacity to fail to be sufficiently enthusiastic for ProJo's pet container port scheme.)

Posted by: Jim at October 26, 2006 9:35 AM