Casino battle royale

By IAN DONNIS  |  October 11, 2006

Opponents have focused their critiques on a simple tag line about the casino: “It’s a bad deal for Rhode Island.”

Although significantly outspent by the other side, Save Our State, with funding from Lincoln Park and Newport Grand, has had enough cash to get its message regularly onto radio and television.

One radio commercial in rotation during the afternoon talk shows seeks to raise doubt about the proposed casino, repeatedly mentioning how it would be included in the state Constitution, without a bid, and with the full details to be worked out only later.

The spot pits local interests against out-of-state big business, calling the casino a good deal for Harrah’s, but not for Rhode Island, asserting that on November 7, “Rhode Island’s integrity will be put to the test.”

A newer commercial depicts a large herd of sauntering sheep — a not-so-subtle suggestion that Rhode Island voters shouldn’t give in to the come-ons from Harrah’s.

Although he downplays his involvement, RDW’s Doyle, a former state director of administration and one-time chief of staff for former US Representative Claudine Schneider, is seen as the architect of this effort.

RDW, which touts itself as the largest independent advertising/PR firm in New England, worked on behalf of Providence Place, T.F. Green’s Sundlun Terminal, and the Cross-Bay Pipeline — projects that overcame opposition — so perhaps it’s not surprising for Doyle to say that he likes being the underdog. (He readily acknowledges that running losing campaigns, such as Trudy Coxe’s unsuccessful congressional effort against Jack Reed in 1990, is far less satisfying.)

Meanwhile, it seems that most, it not all, candidates for state general offices this fall are opposed to the casino. That gubernatorial combatants Carcieri and Charles Fogarty are united in their opposition is “very helpful,” says Save Our State’s Costa, although there are no plans at present to feature the two of them in a commercial.


Casino proponents have enlisted several veterans of Democratic campaigns as part of their push. The higher the vote, the better the outlook, or so the thinking goes, for the passage of Question One.

These organizers are led by Ulrico Izaguirre, Harrah’s national political director, who served as the political director in Arizona for the Gore-Lieberman presidential ticket in 2000, and Massachusetts-based consultant Paul Pezzella, who has done work for John F. Kerry and other Democrats.

Backed by a door-to-door effort in the state’s cities, the two consultants are aggressively working to seek supporters, particularly among blue-collar pockets, who can be turned into voters on Election Day. Proponents also hope to leverage strong backing in the building trades.

Thomas says he expects a “horse race right to the end.”

Jed Rathband, Save Our State’s 34-year-old field director, is a veteran of Maine’s 2003 casino fight, when opponents won the day despite being outspent almost three-to-one.

A native of Mystic, Connecticut, Rathband says casinos have not proven an economic benefit for the Nutmeg State. He says his opposition is to “any deal that doesn’t pay for itself.”

Like the other side, Save Our State has a volunteer effort focused on canvassing and spreading its message through a variety of efforts. With a similar voter ID effort, the anti-casino group has been recently focused on Warwick, West Warwick, and Providence.

For his part, Costa doesn’t buy the theory that a big turnout helps the casino cause, citing the issue as one that motivates a lot of anti-casino voters. “Right now,” he says, “we’re pretty confident we’re going to beat them at the ballot box on Election Day.”

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