The parent company of Twin River proposed Tuesday, in essence, to relocate Newport Grand's video lottery terminals to a new location in Tiverton, close to the border with Fall River, Massachusetts, while adding 30 to 40 table games at the new site.
“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 workforce,” John E. Taylor Jr., chairman of the Twin River Management Group board of directors, said in a statement.
According to Twin River, the plan to build a convenience casino on 45 acres off William S. Canning Boulevard (Route 81) is subject to voter and regulatory approval. If things move forward, the existing Newport Grand gaming license would be transferred to the proposed new casino.
The proposal comes as Massachusetts is moving ahead with plans to add three casinos and a slot parlor -- a change expected to sap Rhode Island's third-largest revenue source of about $100 million in state revenue each year.
"With competition from casinos in Massachusetts posing a real threat to an important source of revenue in Rhode Island, we need to examine ways to remain competitive," Governor Gina Raimondo said in a statement. "This is especially true since we have a $190 million budget shortfall this year; we are under-investing in critical areas like workforce development, businesses-attraction, and infrastructure; and anticipated gaming competition could worsen our budget challenges in the years ahead. This is a proposal that could be beneficial for the state. We look forward to learning more details, and to engaging with the Town of Tiverton about it."
The possibility of taking gambling out of Newport was praised by Liz Taber of the opposition group Citizens Concerned About Casino Gambling.
"From a personal local perspective, we certainly would be delighted if, in fact, Newport Grand was no longer located here in Newport," Taber said. "I do feel it's a bit of the race to the bottom, unfortunately, with the gambling expansion. I understand the challenges for the state budget, but the level of dependency on gambling revenue for the state, I think, overall is a damaging factor in the long term and really should be evaluated."
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said the state must do all it can to protect Rhode Island's third-largest revenue source. "Therefore, I support Twin River’s proposal to relocate Newport Grand to Tiverton," Mattiello said. "I have always been a supporter of Twin River and I applaud them for their creativity and their willingness to invest in our state. 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.”
Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, who last year reversed her support for expanded gambling at Newport Grand, said, "I recognize that the proposed location, just steps from the Massachusetts border, provides the best opportunity to preserve existing jobs and protect state revenue. 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."
Twin River, the largest contributor among the state's gambling revenue-generators, announced plans in March to buy Newport Grand; Taylor said the sale is expected to be completed before the end of June. Newport voters have twice rejected proposals to add table games at Newport.
Taylor said the envisioned Tiverton location is currently undeveloped. If the plans goes forward, he said, employment at Newport Grand would increase from 160 jobs to about 360 jobs at the new venue.
“It’s our objective to build a facility that not only meets the community needs but is right-sized for the marketplace," Taylor said. "A convenience casino located in the dense Fall River metropolitan area will undoubtedly attract customers from that region. 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.”
In a statement, Twin River said it will engage "in a comprehensive dialogue with the residents of Tiverton to develop a project that is appropriate for the community. With community support, and the approval of the Town Council, Twin River would then seek General Assembly approval to place this issue before the voters both locally and statewide during the November 2016 general election."
“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. With a plan developed in concert with, and that benefits Tiverton, we hope that they will agree with our vision on how the State can continue to remain competitive in the face of mounting competition from Massachusetts. We believe this process will result in a successful program for the State and the community.”
Twin River is formally unveiling its proposal during an 11 am news conference.
Twin River said if the Tiverton plan moves ahead, it will work with state and city officials to find a new use for Newport Grand.
This story has been updated.