For the first time since the event began six years ago, the revenue the state receives from gambling at Twin River Casino and Newport Grand Slots will be a targeted topic of discussion when the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Rhode Island Economic Summit convenes Jan. 27.
Grafton H. “Cap” Willey IV, chairman of the taxes-and-budget standing committee for the summit, said the goal of the gambling discussion will be neither to endorse nor reject the expansion of either site to full casinos, but rather to protect the revenue stream that the state relies on in light of threatened competition from neighboring states.
“To ignore what Massachusetts is doing would be risky,” Willey said of the Bay State’s tentative plans for casinos as close as Foxboro and the New Bedford-Fall River area. “The loss of that revenue stream would have a great impact on small-business taxation and services.”
Starting with registration at 7:30 a.m. and continuing to 1:30 p.m., the annual summit at the Johnson & Wales Culinary Archives and Museum on the Harborside Campus is expected to draw about 150 small-business representatives, along with officeholders and other economic- development specialists.
Twenty-nine members, including leaders of the General Assembly, have confirmed their attendance, along with Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee and Lt. Gov. Elizabeth H. Roberts, according to the Providence SBA office. Six standing committees, such as that led by Willey, will host breakout sessions on individual topics, complemented by a plenary session that all attend.
The summit “provides an outlet for small business to tell representatives, senators and general officers what they need to succeed,” said Mark S. Hayward, director of the SBA regional office in Rhode Island. He made a point of noting that paid lobbyists are not part of the program. The summit usually results in a formal legislative package of proposals for the General Assembly.
Willey’s concern about protecting gambling revenue stems from the fact that a large chunk – approximately $300 million – of the state’s $7.7 billion budget comes from that source.
According to Paul L. Dion, chief of the office of revenue analysis at the state Department of Revenue, the state in fiscal 2011 received $270.4 million from Twin River and $31 million from Newport Grand. In the current fiscal year, official estimates are that Twin River will provide $285.2 million and Newport Grand, $29.5 million. In fiscal 2013, estimates are $297.2 million from Twin River and $27.9 million from Newport Grand.