LINCOLN, R.I. (WPRI) — Twin River Management Group announced Tuesday it has secured the rights to acquire land in Tiverton and plans to move Newport Grand to the new facility.
John E. Taylor Jr., chairman of Twin River’s board of directors, said the proposal will allow Rhode Island to more effectively compete with new gambling facilities that are set to open in Massachusetts.
The announcement comes a month after Twin River reached a deal to purchase Newport Grand.
“Given the location of Newport Grand, coupled with the city’s expressed reticence to expand gaming at that venue, we strongly believe this is the state’s best opportunity to preserve and grow the approximately $30 million in gaming revenue from existing Newport Grand operations and equally important, preserve and grow the existing work force,” Taylor said in a statement.
Twin River said it has already secured the purchase rights to about 45 acres of undeveloped land in Tiverton just off William S. Canning Boulevard (Route 81) next to the Route 24 interchange where it wants to build the new casino, about 400 feet from the Massachusetts state line.
The existing Newport Grand gaming license would be transferred to the proposed new casino. Twin River said it wants the Tiverton casino to have between 1,000 and 1,100 slot machines as well as 30 to 40 table games. It’s possible a “small” hotel would be built alongside the casino, Taylor said.
The proposal is subject to voter and regulatory approval. Twin River said it will seek support from the Tiverton Town Council to have state lawmakers put a referendum question on the November 2016 ballot authorizing the plan.
“It’s extremely important to us that the residents of Tiverton be given the opportunity to assist us in developing our proposal,” Taylor said. “Over the coming weeks and months, we will engage in an extensive dialogue and community outreach program to share our ideas, seek advice from stakeholders and ultimately develop a proposal that is in the best interest of the community.”
State leaders react positively
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello immediately welcomed the project.
“Gaming is the state’s third largest source of revenue and we must do all we can to protect it against the impending competition from Massachusetts,” he said. “Therefore, I support Twin River’s proposal to relocate Newport Grand to Tiverton.”
“I have always been a supporter of Twin River and I applaud them for their creativity and their willingness to invest in our state,” Mattiello continued. “Should the Tiverton Town Council request a 2016 referendum to expand gaming, I expect that it would be very well received in the House of Representatives.”
Gov. Gina Raimondo said Rhode Island must “examine ways to remain competitive” as competing casinos open in Massachusetts and the state budget remains strained. “This is a proposal that could be beneficial for the state,” she said. “We look forward to learning more details, and to engaging with the Town of Tiverton about it.”
Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, who represents Newport, said the proposed location in Tiverton appeared to be the best option for preserving jobs and revenue. But she noted some reservations.
“I have expressed my concern that, if the move to Tiverton proceeds, the future development of the present location is a critical issue for Newport,” she said. “I am grateful for their commitment to work with the state and the city to transform the existing site into another revenue- and jobs-generating area for Newport.”
Newport voters rejected table games
There are currently 160 people employed at Newport Grand, according to Twin River. The casino group estimates that the new Tiverton casino would employ a minimum of about 350 people. There are no renderings or cost estimates for the proposed Tiverton facility yet.
Newport Grand would remain fully operational while the Tiverton facility is under construction.
Newport Grand’s future has been in doubt since city voters rejected a ballot question last November that would’ve allowed table games there. The vote followed months of heated debate, with supporters saying the expansion would create hundreds of jobs and opponents arguing it would negatively impact the community.
Former Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino was one of the investors behind the proposal to add table games at Newport Grand. He and his partners sold their right to purchase Newport Grand to Twin River after the referendum failed.
Taylor indicated that the Tiverton proposal is a direct effort to head off the possibility that a full-scale resort casino will be built in Southeastern Massachusetts, one of three zones where state regulators can offer a license. Separately, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has been engaged in a lengthy effort to win federal approval to open a casino on land in Taunton.
“A convenience casino located in the dense Fall River metropolitan area will undoubtedly attract customers from that region,” Taylor said. “In competitive markets such as this one, location is one of the single biggest determinants of success, and this location, with easy on, easy off highway access will well position us.”
“Whether or not multiple $500 million destination casinos can be as successful is highly questionable,” he added.
State revenue at stake
State leaders have expressed deep concerns about the impact of the new Massachusetts casinos on Rhode Island, where gambling money has grown to become the state’s third-largest source of revenue since video-lottery terminals were introduced in 1992.
During the state’s 2013-14 budget year, Twin River’s net terminal income from slot machines totaled $462 million and Newport Grand’s totaled $45 million, according to the state lottery. Newport Grand’s total was down 7% compared with the prior year.
The first of the new Massachusetts gaming facilities, Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville, will open June 24.
In addition to its flagship casino in Lincoln, Twin River Management Group also owns the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, and Arapahoe Park, a horse racetrack in Denver. Last year Colorado voters rejected a ballot referendum backed by Twin River that would have allowed the company to turn Arapahoe Park into a casino.
Ted Nesi and Shaun Towne contributed to this report.