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Voters in three states split on gambling expansion measures

By Nanette Byrnes

(Reuters) - Proposals on the ballot in three states to expand gambling got mixed results from voters on Tuesday.

A Maryland proposal for casino expansion was approved; one in Oregon was rejected; and in Rhode Island, voters split, backing only one of two expansions.

Casino gambling and lotteries have expanded rapidly across the United States in recent years, boosting state revenues while allowing politicians to avoid raising taxes.

Commercial casinos are now open in 23 states. Combined with lotteries, they generated $23.9 billion in state revenues in fiscal 2010, according to the Rockefeller Institute on Government.

In Maryland, voters approved the addition of a sixth casino in the state and an expansion to 24-hour table gaming from the current slots-only operations. The vote followed a $90 million advertising campaign, most of it spent on a blitz of television commercials for and against the proposal.

In the end, the message that a new casino would bring jobs to Maryland helped make the case for the proposal, said Gordon Absher, a spokesman for MGM Resorts International. The company hopes to win the contract for the sixth casino and was the primary financial backer of the campaign for expansion.

In Oregon, where casinos now operate only on Indian tribal lands, voters defeated a proposal to expand beyond that.

In Rhode Island, voters split, allowing casinos to add table games like poker and blackjack in the town of Lincoln, but rejected such a move in stately Newport, where its one casino currently has slots only.

"It just wasn't what Newport is all about," said Justin McLaughlin, a Newport City Council member and opponent.

Revenue from the Newport casino, which currently only allows slots, has been shrinking in recent years. Expectations are that new casinos in Massachusetts will hurt it further, he said.

Even with some growth from table games, over time third-party studies showed an inevitable decline, he said.

"I want economic development that will be a reliable jobs generator, a growth industry that won't, by its own analysis, be shrinking over time," McLaughlin said.

(Reporting by Nanette Byrnes; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Carol Bishopric)

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