LINCOLN – A crowd of players engulfed the craps table as dealer Sam Hasney announced the cutoff for more bets.
“Bets set,” he said. “Shooter’s looking for four. Four wins.”
“C’mon Nick,” somebody cheered as an oversized pair of red dice tumbled across the green felt pit of the craps deck.
This might have looked like gambling, but it was really a scene from the training room of Twin River as the sea of slots prepares to morph into a full-fledged casino with Las Vegas-style table games this summer. Hasney, who is normally a floor manager, was the dealer du jour as he and other Twin River workers practiced with fake chips to get ready for the big day.
Situated in the old cinderblock paddock where greyhound racers once waited for their chance to chase a mechanical rabbit, the rehearsal hall was one of the main exhibits Tuesday as Twin River executives allowed reporters to see how work is progressing on the table game makeover. When the $7 million remodeling project is done, about 12 percent of the facility’s 160,000 square feet of gaming space, now devoted exclusively to mechanical slots, will go over to table games, according to John E. Taylor Jr., the chairman and chief executive officer of Twin River.
He said the casino will open with 65 tables for baccarat, craps, roulette and blackjack by July 1, if not a little sooner.
“Frankly there’s been a lot of interest not only from the media but the people of Rhode Island who want to know where this was going,” Taylor said. “It’s become a bigger issue with Massachusetts on the horizon.”
The first of five casinos could be opening in the Bay State as soon as late 2016. Taylor said Twin River is making plans to maintain its competitive edge by staying true to its identity as “a convenience casino” and encouraging customer loyalty.
For example, he said, along with the new table games, Twin River will debut a new VIP room for high rollers featuring buffet food, beverages and entertainment.
“What we have to do is make great relationships with our players so they want to come back,” said Taylor. “Will there be impacts? Definitely there will be impacts to the state of Rhode Island.”
Twin River sends 62 percent of all slot revenue to the state, a critical component of the state budget and a deal the facility portrays as one of the most generous in the industry. The state’s take from gaming tables will be 18 percent, a figure Taylor said is still above the industry average of 12 percent.
The split is substantially lower because Twin River’s overhead for running table games is far higher than that of slots, which are fully automated. Table games are labor intensive, requiring dealers to run the games and more security to keep an eye on players.
Craig Sculos, the vice president and general manager, said Twin River didn’t just pick 65 out of thin air as the number of table games that was right to kick off the casino venture.
“Going big is not necessarily the way to go,” he said. “We feel the 65 table games meet the current demand.”
Though the number is fixed, Twin River still hasn’t decided how the mix of baccarat, roulette, craps and blackjack tables will make up the total. The calculus, including the total number of games, could change if the casino feels it’s warranted, and Taylor said it’s possible that poker may be added in the future.
Taylor said Twin River will lose 214 slot machines to make way for table games – it will still have 4,538 – but Taylor said he didn’t the casino will notice the loss of revenue after the advent of table games.
Reporters donned white hardhats and protective eyewear as Taylor and other casino executives led a half-dozen representatives of the media through the area that will house the table games. Cardboard cutouts were positioned on the fresh carpet to show where the tables will go.
Paul Tierney of Gilbane, Inc., the general contractor on the project, said roughly 45 workers a day, representing some two dozen subcontracting firms, all from Rhode Island, have been working at least 18-24 hours a day on the makeover. The project took off just days after voters in Lincoln and the state overwhelmingly approved separate referenda questions on the Nov. 6 ballot allowing Twin River to bring in table games. The dual approvals were required to change the state laws limiting the scope of Twin River’s activities.
Taylor said 500 to 600 new employees, or the equivalent of about 300 full-time workers, would be needed to fill new jobs associated with table games, including positions in security, surveillance or table personnel. The first batch of newcomers is now in some phase of regulatory approval by the state regulators who oversee gaming, including the state police, the lottery commission and the department of business regulation.
Though roughly 19,000 square feet of the project will house table games, the total renovation involves roughly 115,000 square feet of remodeled space, which is closer to 25 percent of the entire casino, most of it involving areas patrons will never see. The work includes what the casino calls “back of the house” space where employees retrieve and cash chips, prepare food and do other chores. There’s also a new freestanding facility on the south side of Twin River where state regulators from law enforcement and the lottery commission will be permanently housed with a few employees from the casino’s human services department.
While forklifts grunted and power tools whirred in the construction zone, workers seemed to be having the most fun in the training room, where they were practicing for future roles in and around gaming tables.
It will take five workers to staff a craps table, including four dealers and the table supervisor, said Marcus Dobberfuhl, a casino shift manager.
“This is the hardest game to learn,” he said. “Just because there’s so much going on and there’s close to a hundred different types of bets you can make.”