Dave’s Bar and Grill on Post Road in Warwick may not be your first choice to engage in meaningful political discourse – especially when the New England Patriots were playing in their 7th-consecutive AFC Championship game against the Jacksonville Jaguars (and things were not going well).
However those opinions were abound, particularly on the subject of sports book betting – now that Governor Raimondo has announced her FY19 budget, which includes an expectation that the state will generate about $23.5 million from that stream by opening up betting at Twin River.
The question was simple. Would you bet on the Patriots – either for them or against them – if you were at the casino and felt you had a good read on the potential outcome of a game?
"I'd bet to win," said Elizabeth Finelli, who was cheering on the Patriots with her husband Brian, saying that team loyalty wouldn’t get in the way of a potentially big win on a bet. "I don't give my loyalty except to my family.”
“I would rather make money," said Gioia DeSimone, echoing that sentiment while playing a couple rounds of Keno. "I'm a Pats fan but I'm also realistic."
However some were more attached to their beloved team than the allure of dollar signs.
“It ruins it for me," said Jim Pugliano of Warwick, who attended Toll Gate and played for the Titans football team. “I'm a diehard fan and I don't ever want to root against my team.” Speaking of the Patriots, Pugliano said they don't do it for the money, they do it for the immortality of the Super Bowl rings.
However others differentiated between fandom and betting.
“Rooting and betting are entirely two different things,” said Michael McCaughey, a pressman for the Providence Journal.
The budget talk got even more in depth when Republican candidate for governor and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung – along with his wife Barbara-Ann Fenton – strolled unexpectedly through the doors to watch the second half. Fung, a lifelong Pats fan, had started the evening off at Arooga’s but changed locations, hoping he could help sway some luck for the Patriots via the unseen, inexplicable forces that all true sports fans understand.
“I wouldn't gamble on legislation [sports betting]. It's gambling without the Supreme Court [decision] coming down," Fung said, referring to how the country's highest court has yet to rule on former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's challenge of federal law preventing states that currently prohibit sports gambling from doing so.
Fung, in the midst of his second campaign for governor, was highly critical of Raimondo’s $9.37 billion budget, primarily for how it assumes to get money to help close a budget deficit that will balloon to over $200 million within two years from “scoops” taken out of the reserves of agencies such as Rhode Island Resource Recovery and the Student Loan Authority for revenue, and uncertain streams of revenue – such as the aforementioned sports book betting, and by increasing the number of medical marijuana facilities from three to 15, which is projected to generate over $5 million in tax revenue.
Although Rhode Island is one of the 29 states, plus D.C., that has legalized medical marijuana, the federal government still hasn't legalized marijuana and, further, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has indicated he won't be abiding by former president Barack Obama's policies allowing states to handle their own business regarding marijuana enforcement.
"The feds have shown an indication that they're likely to crack down on the use of marijuana country-wide," Fung said. “There's a lot of, in my mind, bad assumptions. There's a lot of increased programs and expenses that are going to continue to add debt with no reasonable way to pay for it. It really is fantasy land that she's living in.”
Other reactions to Raimondo’s budget were no nicer. Also competing for a gubernatorial nomination, former Warwick state representative Joe Trillo released a scathing review of the budget after its release last Thursday.
“This Governor's budget is truly the worst, most pathetic budget to ever come out in the last 20 years. It puts RI at the bottom of the barrel financially out of all the other states,” Trillo’s statement reads. “It shows her idea of new revenue sources is selling more marijuana and enticing more people to gamble. If we can't help people to succeed on their own, we can at least keep them high and happy.”
Should the Supreme Court rule in favor of the states’ prerogative to set up sports book betting, it would begin tentatively on Oct. 1 of 2018 and would only be available in person at the state’s Twin River casinos. Betting on Rhode Island collegiate sports programs would be prohibited.
Elsewhere in the budget, Raimondo has banked on the federal government reauthorizing CHIP programs to the tune of $28.5 million and an increase in funding to increase the Department of Children, Youth and Families budget by $4.1 million.
Overall, the budget accounts for an increase of overall revenues in the state from $3.948 billion in FY19 to $4.261 billion in FY23. However, according to the budget’s FY2023 overview:
“This economic forecast does not anticipate a recession or a significant increase in economic growth as a result of changes in federal tax and/or regulatory policy. Should either of these events transpire, Rhode Island general revenues will decrease below the current projections in the case of a recession or increase above the current projection in the case of higher economic growth.”
The report indicates a 20 percent chance at a recession versus a 15 percent chance of higher economic growth, citing United Kingdom financial analysis company IHS Markit.
While Mayor Fung certainly made an assumption that leaving Arooga’s might make a difference for the Patriots on the field at Gillette Stadium, it seemingly paid off in real time as the Pats stormed back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to send the Patriots to their 8th Super Bowl of the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era – an unprecedented number of appearances for any team in NFL history.
Earlier, when the Patriots still trailed and after wide receiver Brandin Cooks failed to haul in a long pass from Brady, the bar – and Fung – shouted out in dismay. Fung, in the midst of an interview with the Beacon, quickly regained his political composure.
“That was my reaction to when the budget got released too,” he said.