With Connecticut’s casinos struggling and competition from Massachusetts on the way, Rhode Island gambling opponents say the state should cash in its chips on gaming revenue.
State leaders and Rhode Island’s two slot parlors, however, want to raise the stakes. They’ve asked voters on Nov. 6 to approve ballot questions allowing Twin River Casino in Lincoln and Newport Grand in Newport to run full table games, like blackjack, craps and roulette, in addition to the video wagering offered at the sites right now.
The two gambling referendums – Question 1 for Twin River and Question 2 for Newport Grand – are the highest profile of seven questions on the statewide ballot, including borrowing authorizations to pay for a new veterans home, clean-water projects, environmental preservation, renovations to Rhode Island College and creation of more affordable housing. Together, the bond questions would raise $209 million for the state to spend.
As significant as the spending questions are, they’ve been overshadowed by the state’s gambling plan, which was spurred by Massachusetts’ entry into gaming last year when lawmakers there authorized three full casinos, including one in the southeast part of the state, plus one slot parlor.
A state-commissioned study by Christiansen Capital Advisors estimated that Rhode Island would lose $100 million in annual revenue once Massachusetts’ new gambling facilities are running.
Along with Twin River Casino, Newport Grand and state leaders, the Rhode Island business community has joined the push for table games in Lincoln and Newport.
“It certainly can’t hurt,” said Robert Nickerson, president of Stone Tower Properties commercial brokerage in Providence, about the impact of expanded gaming on the state economy.
One of five businesspeople on Twin River’s pro-Question 1 coalition advisory committee, Nickerson said if the state is going to have any gambling, it may as well do it right, and that means full table games.
“I am not a gambler, but I enjoy events up there and when you walk in the door, you think this is a casino,” Nickerson said.
Twin River’s Bring Jobs to Rhode Island Coalition includes the local leaders of three unions, four hospitality-tourism groups and the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce.
Steve Cronin, president and CEO of Pawtucket marketing firm Twobolt, another coalition member, called table games at Twin River and Newport Grand “good for the Rhode Island economy.”