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The day after the Lincoln Town Council voted to let town voters cast their ballots on the question of turning Lincoln Park into a casino, House Majority Whip Rene R. Menard said the legislation might need changes before being introduced to the General Assembly.

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Menard, D-Lincoln, said yesterday that he hadn't yet seen the resolution the council passed Tuesday, which requested that the General Assembly authorize the town "to present to the voters of the Town of Lincoln, at the Nov. 2, 2004, election, a referendum authorizing the establishment of a full-service gambling facility . . . to be located at the current Lincoln Park facilities."

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But to have any effect, Menard said, the ballot question would need approval from voters statewide, as well as from Lincoln voters.

The resolution, authored by baccarat game Richard K. Foster, made no mention of a wider ballot question, but it also didn't say the referendum in Lincoln would be nonbinding.

"Unless it specifically says it's a nonbinding referendum, it's binding," Menard said.

He said he needed clarification of the council's intent before taking the resolution to the General Assembly for approval to place it on the ballot.

Under a 1994 amendment to Rhode Island's Constitution, "No act expanding the types of gambling which are permitted within the state . . . or expanding the municipalities in which a particular form of gambling is authorized shall take effect until it has been approved by the majority of those electors voting in a statewide referendum and by the majority of those electors voting in a referendum in the municipality in which the proposed gambling would be allowed."

Foster could not be reached yesterday. But the ballot question's impact was debated on Tuesday night.

Foster said the voter referendum "is not -- and I repeat, not -- a request to establish a casino in this town."

To which Council President Dean L. Lees Jr. replied: "If this goes to the voters, and they say yes, 100 percent -- it's binding."

"That's your opinion," Councilman Dennis M. Auclair told Lees.

Neither Lincoln Park parent company Wembley plc nor BLB Investors, the company on the verge of buying Wembley, has proposed a plan for a casino there, but Lees said approving one would constitute a "blank check" for forthcoming proposals.

After listening to public comment, Lees asked Foster point-blank: "Do you want this to be nonbinding or binding? What is your intent?"

Foster didn't answer the question directly. Instead, he replied that even if voters said yes to the ballot question, a casino proposal would still need to pass through several levels of regulation, at the state and town level.

Town Solicitor Mark S. Krieger chimed in: "The track itself has agreed they forever waive their rights to a casino, and the zoning ordinance has been changed to reflect that."

While that's true, under a 2001 agreement with the town, the same agreement said Lincoln Park "may petition the town for the right to operate any and all 'casino type' table games, including but not limited to blackjack, poker and any and all card games, roulette, baccarat and/or dice tables, if federal and/or state statutes are enacted which would allow such forms of baccarat games ."

Given the confusion over the legislation's effects, Councilwoman Patricia M. Melucci suggested deferring the question to next week, saying she needed time to consider her vote and wanted to give Councilwoman Elizabeth Robinson, who was absent, a chance to weigh in.

 
   
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