LINCOLN – A confident John Taylor told the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce Wednesday that Twin River will “absolutely” be able to compete with the planned Massachusetts casinos if the ballot questions to allow table games at the casino are approved by voters next week.
Taylor, chairman of Twin River’s board of directors, said the facility should start offering table games in July of next year, which he expects will give it a head start of two and a half years before Massachusetts can begin opening the three resort casinos approved by the Bay State legislature. He notes that Twin River is already competing successfully with two of the world’s largest casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.
Last year, he said, Twin River grew its business by 9 percent, while Foxwoods was down by 2 percent and Mohegan Sun dropped by 3 percent. In the first eight months of this year, he added, “we’ve grown our business by 5 percent, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun are down 6 percent in the same period.
Twin River is sponsoring a rally today at 5 p.m. to gin up support for the ballot questions and urge voters to turn out next Tuesday to approve them. The Northern Rhode Island Chamber has endorsed Questions 1 and 8, according to President John Gregory.
Taylor said the Coalition to Bring Jobs to Rhode Island, the political action committee formed to support the ballot questions on table games, will likely spend a little more than $4 million to encourage voters statewide to approve Question 1 on the November 6 ballot and voters in Lincoln to approve ballot Question 8. Both are key because if Lincoln voters don’t approve Question 8, it doesn’t matter how the statewide question fares; the table games will be rejected.
Unlike past ballot questions concerning gambling and casinos, there is currently no organized effort to urge voters to reject the proposal. The town of Lincoln and its residents have not always been comfortable with new initiatives at Twin River – a non-binding referendum on allowing Twin River to open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, was rejected by Lincoln voters, although later approved by the General Assembly – both seem to be on board with the current proposal.
The focus of Twin River’s referendum effort has been jobs.
The company says approval of the referendum questions will protect the 900 jobs that Twin River already provides – 800 of which are held by Rhode Islanders; 100 of those by Lincoln residents – as well as add 350 new jobs at the facility. That in turn, Taylor said, is expected to add another 300 jobs in the state among the company’s vendors and suppliers.
The new jobs at Twin River, the lion’s share of which will be dealers, are expected to pay an average of $60,000 a year.
“In an economy with the second highest unemployment in the country,” Taylor said, “we think jobs are critical and as I have gone around the state it is one of the things people want to talk about.”
Allowing the table games will also protect the roughly $300 million -- $290 million in gambling revenue; $10 million in business taxes – that Twin River turns over to the state of Rhode Island, making it the state’s third-largest revenue stream, after income and sales taxes. The town of Lincoln receives an additional $11 million, which would grow if the table games are approved.
Lincoln makes good use of the money it currently receives from the slot machines, Taylor said, because the town has a policy of not using more than $5.2 million in its operating budget. The rest is used for one-time capital improvements, allowing it to obtain “things other cities and towns can’t afford. He noted that some of the cash has gone to build a state-of-the-art Senior Center, an extension of the library and to buy a new trash truck, among other items.
Adding table games to the gambling menu at Twin River won’t alter the neighborhood, he promised. The building will not be expanded, he said, the table games will fit inside the existing facility and there will be “no neon signs out on Louisquisset Pike.” He cited studies that predict the table games will draw about 1,500 to 2,000 more cars a day to the casino.
Asked which games would be introduced if the referendum is approved, Taylor said he expects to see traditional casino games such as Blackjack, Roulette and Craps. To the apparent disappointment of the questioner, Taylor said Poker may not be one of the offerings.
“We are struggling with Poker,” Taylor admitted. “We’re not sure what we are going to do. The vast majority of people that I talk to are urging a poker room, but we need to know if there is enough demand for Poker in this market because it is a game where you need a critical mass (of players) to make it work. Poker is still up in the air.
Bingo is definitely out.
“We have no plans to do a bingo hall here,” he said. “Bingo is one of those go-big-or-go-home kind of games and there is one of the world’s largest bingo halls at Foxwoods.”