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The information is this section is out of date. The Casino effort in Charlestown has gone on for more than 25 years. Economic changes and near saturation in the gambling market have changed the landscape for casinos. The issue isn’t dead, but it is substantially altered since the sections below were created. For the present they serve as a history and reminder of what can happen. We hope we will not have any new material or a need to update this topic.
Since 1991, the Narragansett Tribe has proposed a high stakes gambling facility in Charlestown. They currently are proposing a casino in Charlestown that would compete with Foxwoods. Foxwoods casino in Connecticut attracts up to 100,000 people per day. The tribe is lobbying state leaders to support its efforts to persuade Congress to repeal the Chafee Amendment to the Settlement Act; the law that requires the Narragansetts to seek local and statewide voter approval for high-stakes gambling on its 1,800 acres. If the law is rescinded, the tribe could immediately forge ahead with a casino in Charlestown.
So far, our Congressional Delegation and Governor Carcieri are standing firm behind their support and defense of the Rhode Island Indian Claims Settlement Act. We encourage everyone to write to them and all our elected officials and thank them for helping us keep a casino out of Charlestown. You can find links to their email addresses on our outside links page.
Economists, attorneys general and others who study the effects of casino gambling will tell you that the first casualty of casino gambling in a community is the political process. The confusion of community interest and casino interest has occurred in nearly every community that hosts casino gambling. According to former Deputy U.S. Attorney Mark Wolf, “after casinos came to Atlantic City, local public employees and officials were reported to have real estate transactions with casinos, own stock in them, or have other financial ties to them.” In gambling communities all across the country, politicians who claim to be working to protect the community’s interest have been working instead to protect and promote the casino’s interest. Actions by some Charlestown politicians seem to prove this rule. Voters need to closely examine the record of each candidate for Town Council and Planning Commission. Candidates will claim to be against a casino in Charlestown, but their record will tell another story. CCA intends to do the in-depth analysis of each candidate to judge how well they will protect our town from casinos.
Before Foxwoods opened in 1992, North Stonington and surrounding communities were characterized by rural land use patterns and were home to an active and successful land trust. Just one year after the casino opened, a 10 fold expansion was announced that included more casinos, hotels, a large shopping mall, theaters, and other entertainment. Because of their sovereignty, the Pequots are exempt from many State and local laws. Unencumbered by building codes and state environmental regulations, construction of these facilities began immediately. Traffic on local roads surpassed all predictions for this century. The wealth created by these enterprises was used in part to acquire more land which the Pequots attempted to put into federal trust and take out of local regulation. The casino’s success attracted large hotel developers who were attempting to develop non tribal land. The town of North Stonington was forced to adopt hotel zoning regulations to accommodate these developers. This resulted in one developer, John Zaccaro of New York, bringing suit against the town claiming overly restrictive regulations. The successful unregulated casino inspired deregulation in local communities which then experienced accelerated, unplanned development. And that was just the first year! Since then traffic has only gotten worse, development pressures continue and the casino has turned into a city that never sleeps.
With this kind and size of proposal, everything is at stake in our beautiful town. Our community’s environment, economy and character are all on the line.
The site of the proposed gambling hall is surrounded by most of the state’s important conservation areas, a federal wildlife refuge, town conservation land and private wildlife preserves. Charlestown area public lands provide Rhode Islanders and tourists with a place for hiking, hunting, fishing and other recreations. The Great Swamp Wildlife Management Area, Carolina Wildlife Management Area, Burlingame State Park and Wildlife Management Area, Ninigret Park and Wildlife Refuge, The Nature Conservancy’s Carter Preserve, public ocean and freshwater beaches, and the North South hiking trail are all within a three mile radius of the casino site.
The proposed site is part of the federally designated Wood-Pawcatuck Sole Source Aquifer. This aquifer has been identified as a possible future drinking water source for the state, and is the drainage basin of the Wood-Pawcatuck River which has been nominated as a Wild and Scenic River by the National Park Service and is home to beaver, river otter, and salmon. The Rhode Island Natural Heritage Program has identified many areas in Charlestown which contain rare plant and animal species, and which represent unique habitat types. High density development near these habitats could result in their destruction. Our wetlands, ponds, streams, and the Pawcatuck river may lose their importance as freshwater fisheries and waterfowl habitat if their water quality is not maintained. Tourism and recreation in Charlestown have always been resource based, and this has resulted in resource protection. Tourism based on gambling will have the opposite effect if developers see no value in our resources and find their protection an impediment.
Main routes leading to the casino site are winding two lane roads that will need to be widened to accommodate casino traffic. Routes 2 (South County Trail) and 112 ( Carolina Back Road) would be heavily used casino access roads. Present traffic volumes are not sufficient to support much commercial development, but the woodlands and agricultural lands that border this road could easily be transformed to strip developments if traffic is substantially increased. Bridges over the Pawcatuck River and it’s wetlands will need to be widened along with the roads. On Route 2, casino traffic would pass through the Queen’s Valley, an important agricultural area. Other access roads that would have increased traffic are Routes 1, 3, 91, 102, 138, 216, Woodville Road, and Switch Road. These roads pass through some of the most rural areas of the state.
Route 112 in Charlestown and Richmond passes through Carolina, an early 19th century mill village. Here the historic homes and textile mill buildings are densely spaced and setback only a short distance from the roadside. Road widening and commercial development in this area could destroy this important historic resource. Carolina is on the National Register of Historic Places. If the main roads become heavily used, side roads will be used as short cuts. One of these short cuts, Shannock Road, which links Route 112 and Route 2, passes through Shannock. Shannock another 19th century mill village on the National Register of Historic Places will have increased traffic.
Chariho high school and middle school is five miles from the casino site. The Charlestown elementary school is one mile from the site and directly in the path of casino traffic. Before casino traffic can reach Charlestown it must pass through the town of Richmond and directly past the Richmond elementary school. Foxwoods is open serving alcohol 24 hours a day. Our school buses and children will share the road with heavy casino traffic. These roads do not have side walks, bike paths or other pedestrian trails, but they may soon have a lot more drunk drivers.
Before Foxwoods Casino opened, there were only two Gamblers Anonymous meetings a week for all of Rhode Island. Two years later, there were Gamblers Anonymous meetings every night of the week and attendance had increased six hundred percent. Gambling is the fastest growing industry in the country, but it produces many ruined lives. Gambling creates costs that must be paid by everyone, including those who do not gamble. Studies indicate that 5 or 6 percent of the adult population will become addicted to gambling if it becomes commonly available. As many as 10 percent of teenagers are at risk of gambling addiction. Casinos rely heavily on the revenues from problem gamblers by earning as much as 46 percent of their revenues from compulsive and addicted gamblers. Even in families where gambling is not a problem the casino can cast a shadow. How can we teach our children the importance of hard work and responsibility in a community dominated by the “something for nothing” philosophy of casino gambling?
Local tourism is dependent on our community being perceived as a beautiful and safe community. A casino will change how our community is perceived. The 1996 North Cape Oil Spill that affected the beaches and salt water ponds in and around Charlestown is a clear demonstration of the dependence of our tourism economy on unspoiled natural resources. As the press, politicians and federal officials were describing our community as a pristine, fragile and beautiful place, the summer tourists who rent beach cottages in Charlestown were canceling their summer rentals. For Charlestown, summer rentals to families form a major part of the tax base. For Charlestown this is a main revenue source. South County’s economy depends on the conservation of natural resources and the peaceful character of these communities. Not only must natural areas be unspoiled, they must also be perceived to be unspoiled. Charlestown’s main attractions are its beauty and peacefulness. If these attractions aren’t maintained, Charlestown will lose its greatest economic asset. Charlestown’s tourism industry and the environment are more than interrelated, they are interdependent.
There have been many studies by economists and community planners that have shown the net economic effect of gambling to be negative. The costs of compulsive gambling to local economies are enormous. Gambling cannibalizes dollars from other nearby businesses. The Narragansetts’ management company, Harrahs, is based in Las Vegas, and is publicly traded. How much money will be mined from the problem gamblers in our area and invested in Nevada or elsewhere? How much of our natural resource based tourism will be displaced by gambling? Will people still want to fish and swim in Charlestown if they have to fight casino traffic to get here? The crime figures for communities near Foxwoods show an increase in crime and domestic violence related to Foxwoods. How will an increase in crime affect our existing tourism? How much will crime cost the local taxpayer?
Charlestown has a population of 8000, a small police force, and winding narrow roads. Homes are served by individual wells and septic systems. Charlestown’s median household income is less than $60,000. We do not have the infrastructure or financial resources to support this huge casino development. Because of the tax exempt status of the Narragansetts, the surrounding community will have to bear the cost of traffic, crime control, and road widening. For most Charlestown residents their home is their only investment. In communities where casinos are built, the value of residential properties plummet. Adding these costs to the other negative economic impacts could create a huge financial burden for the residents of Charlestown.
The Citizens Equal Rights Alliance has lots of information about federal Indian policy and Indian law. Their web site is at http://www.citizensalliance.org/.
The National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling web site at http://www.ncalg.org/ has extensive information about the negative impacts of casinos on communities, governments, economies, and individuals.
We will be providing more links here soon to other sites and other documents on the casino subject so check back often.
Write a letter to the Governor and to our Congressional Delegation thanking them for their protection of The Settlement Act and urge them to continue to protect Charlestown’s environment and economy and Rhode Island law. Or you can call their offices and leave a verbal message. Contact information for these politicians and others is on our links page.
Write a letter to the editor of the local papers expressing your concerns about a casino in Charlestown. Feel free to use any of the information above. Contact information for the newspapers is also on our links page. Because the casino is an issue of statewide concern, you could send your letters to the statewide edition of the Providence Journal as well as the local papers.
Attend Town Council meetings and express your concern about the impacts of a casino in Charlestown.
If you have ideas on ways we can avoid a casino in Charlestown please write to us at mail.CharlestownCitizens.org and tell us your ideas.