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The Associated Press March 29, 2012, 09:02AM ET

RI Senate panel endorses Newport casino referendum

Rhode Island voters are one step closer to deciding whether to authorize a casino at the Newport Grand slot parlor.

A state Senate committee endorsed legislation Wednesday that would seek voter approval for table games at the facility in Newport. A full vote by the Senate is expected next week.

Newport Grand's owners say they need to offer table games such as poker and blackjack to compete with casinos now authorized in Massachusetts. The Newport City Council earlier this year asked lawmakers to put the referendum on the ballot.

The House has already authorized the referendum. Senate passage is expected.

The state Constitution requires casino proposals to be approved by voters statewide and in the host community.

While it's up to citizens to approve a casino, it would be up to lawmakers to work out the state's share of revenue. Supporters of expanded gambling said they plan to introduce legislation soon to cover the financial and operational details for any authorized casinos so voters know the details before they head to the polls.

Lawmakers have already scheduled a referendum this fall on authorizing a casino at the Twin River slot parlor in Lincoln.

Massachusetts lawmakers voted to authorize casinos in November, creating a threat to jobs and gambling revenue in Rhode Island.

A study commissioned by Gov. Lincoln Chafee indicates that casinos in Massachusetts could siphon more than $100 million a year from the Rhode Island treasury by reducing the state's share of gambling revenue at Newport Grand and Twin River.

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