PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) – Gov. Don Carcieri’s fight to prevent construction of a casino in West Warwick ended in his favor Friday, when a Superior Court judge blocked the issue from going to voters and the casino’s proponents abandoned their efforts to pursue the matter.

Carcieri, who has called the $600 million casino project a threat to the quality of life in the state, sought the court ruling in order to prevent what he called an unconstitutional casino referendum question from appearing on the November ballot. Attorney General Patrick Lynch joined the effort.

Judge Daniel Procaccini, citing a Supreme Court advisory opinion issued a day earlier, said allowing the vote to go forward would cause “substantial harm” and undermine the public’s confidence in the judicial system.

“This court cannot ignore the Supreme Court’s advisory opinion,” Procaccini said. It was “clear, thorough and well supported.”

The high court’s opinion -which carried no legal weight – said the ballot question and its associated legislation violated state law.

The referendum would’ve asked voters whether Harrah’s Entertainment, in association with the Narragansett Indian Tribe, could build a casino in West Warwick.

According to the Rhode Island Constitution, any type of gambling expansion must be approved by voters. The constitution also says any new gambling facility must be state operated.

One reason the high court declared the legislation unconstitutional was because, the justices said, it authorized a privately operated casino.

Secretary of State Matt Brown, whose office handles the ballots, said he would abide by Procaccini’s order. Las Vegas-based Harrah’s and the tribe said they wouldn’t challenge it.

“Harrah’s sees no purpose in pursuing … what is essentially futile litigation,” attorney Lauren Jones said.

Carcieri said Procaccini’s ruling “saved our state from constitutional chaos.”

The ballot question was part of gambling legislation passed, over the governor’s veto, last month by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly.

Carcieri’s request for an advisory opinion from the high court came as a last effort to block the referendum from getting to voters.

Even though the opinion didn’t carry any legal weight, the state’s lawyers used the justices’ reasoning in their arguments before Procaccini.

“Their opinion was clear, it was strong,” said assistant Attorney General Rebecca Partington. “They found beyond a reasonable doubt (the question) was unconstitutional.”

Partington said it was a disservice to residents to ask them to vote on a question that the Supreme Court said violates state law.

But Procaccini questioned whether stripping the question from the ballot would deny residents their right to vote on a measure passed by the General Assembly.

“The public doesn’t have a right to vote on unconstitutional matters,” Partington replied.

Procaccini later said allowing residents to vote on the matter “would render this important act of the citizenry meaningless and futile.”

Lynch said he believes residents should be able to vote on the issue, but those votes should count.

He also said it was “simply naive” to think that this issue is over because of Procaccini’s ruling, and endorsed a proposed gambling commission that would examine lottery development in the state.

Guy Dufault, a spokesman for the tribe, confirmed that the issue isn’t dead, saying the tribe would continue its quest to build a casino in the state – just not this year.

Jones, who represents Harrah’s, added that Procaccini’s decision doesn’t rule out future dealings in Rhode Island or with the Narragansetts.

Dufault said the tribe may return to the General Assembly in January to advocate new legislation that would give the state more control over any casino project.

Dufault, who never conceded the ballot question was illegal, said the tribe could also press to change the constitution to eliminate future questions.

Meanwhile, Thomas said the tribe would examine other revenue building measures. The tribe had estimated a casino would provide it – and the state – with millions of dollars in revenue annually.

“We’re not done pushing for our fair share,” he said.


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