Tomorrow afternoon, the RI Senate Committee on Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs will hear testimony on S2703, which Attorney General Peter Kilmartin submitted through Senator Maryellen Goodwin (D, Providence).
The primary intention of the bill, according to AG spokeswoman Amy Kempe, is to bring “greater efficiency to the process.” It also would “clean up” the general laws, which contain, for instance, language related to the 2006 Gaming Control Act, which specifically addressed the possibility of a casino in West Warwick operated by the Narragansett Indian Tribe and Harrah’s Entertainment. Rhode Island voters did not approve the casino.
The new legislation would change the law to place Rhode Island’s gambling activities, casino and otherwise, under the sole control of the Division of the State Lottery (DSL). Currently, both the DSL and the Department of Business Regulation (DBR) have roles in regulating the industry.
To effectuate that change, the legislation removes all references to gambling from Title 41 of the state general laws, “Sports, Racing, and Athletics” (mainly sections 9 through 11 in their entirety). It then reinserts the bulk of the deleted language under Title 42, “State Affairs and Government,” in the sections dealing with the lottery division.
Such a wholesale change of the law, though seemingly limited in scope, means that specific changes in the language cannot be traced. In most bills, legislators and other interested parties can consider the effects of all deletions (crossed out and in red) and insertions (underlined and in blue). In the case of S2703, most of the document’s 110 pages consist of one long deletion followed by one long insertion, with changes made without further notation along the way.
One conspicuous omission from the reinserted text is the “uniform compulsive and problem gambling program” (41-9.1-25) that would have required “any casino licensee” to take a hand in addressing addiction. “In no way is the attorney general trying to strip the problem gambling program,” says Kempe.
More significant is the removal of disclosure requirements (currently under 41-9.1-4) for “each member of the state lottery division.” In summary, this section of the law requires employees and other people involved with the DSL to avoid or disclose financial and familial involvement with “casino gaming” organizations in the state.
As the general laws currently stand, “conflict of interest” is defined at length when it comes to casino gambling and the DSL. However, the list of definitions reinserted as a new “Rhode Island Gaming Control and Enforcement Act” make no mention of the concept.
Asked about conflict of interest and disclosure requirements, Special Assistant to the Attorney General Joee Lindbeck told the Current that they would be covered under the “general duties and powers” granted to the DSL. That is, the division would promulgate its own rules and regulations as it deems appropriate.
Amy Kempe says the legislation would “ensure that there is a strong law enforcement aspect” to the law, with the creation of a special gaming enforcement unit within the state police. However, that unit would have no responsibilities beyond the “laws, rules and regulations” implemented by the General Assembly or the DSL.
Were the bill to pass, the government division with sole authority to control casino gaming in the state would also determine its own standards for the corruption of its employees and other members.