New Englanders put obstacles in path of legalized gambling

Political support for legalized gambling appears to be waning in southern New England. Rhode Island has a new law preventing new gaming operations unless approved by voter referendums, both statewide and in the communities where any such proposed facility would be located.

Connecticut has extended through June 1983 a two-year-old ban on additional legalized gambling activities.

Earlier this year the Connecticut General Assembly rejected legislation that would have cleared the way for casino gambling.

In another gambling-related matter, New Hampshire officials have rejected a proposal for a new dog racing track in Salem on the site of the burned-out former Rockingham Race Track.

The Rhode Island referendum requirement was pushed by Gov. J. Joseph Garrahy. The Legislature approved it May 15, in the waning hours of its 1981 session. Besides providing for referendums, the new law requires public disclosure of those with financial interests in such projects. This would come before the vote.

Twice within the past seven months citizens in different Rhode Island communities soundly defeated new gambling activities. Newport, R.I., voters said no to casino gambling last Nov. 4 by a better than 4-to-1 margin. On Jan. 27, 1981, residents of Johnston, R.I., similarly thwarted a proposed horse racing track.

Although passage of the new Rhode Island and Connecticut laws reflect legislative concern over the impact of legalized gambling, there is little visible sentiment in the legislatures for cutting back or eliminating existing operations.

Besides state-run lotteries, both states have parimutuel dog race tracks and jai alai. Connecticut also has 16 off-track betting centers.

Last year legalized gambling netted Connecticut $88.5 million and Rhode Island $18.8 million.

The New Hampshire dog-racing issue is a complicated one. Delaware North Corporation is pushing the dog track as part of a new sports complex including an arena to house its Boston Bruins hockey team. In the wake of rejection of its first plan, the company has come in with a revised one.

A legislative committee is expected to decide May 28 whether to recommend the new proposal, which would not initially include the dog track, but would permit it if the complex p roved unprofitable without it.

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