Last week, the Committee on Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs of the Rhode Island Senate swiftly amended legislation from both the Senate and the House that would establish a framework for government operation of casino games at the Newport Grand video slot location in Newport and present a ballot question on the matter to voters. The Senate will vote on the amended bill this Wednesday, and the House will review the Committee’s amendment.
In summary, the amendment declares as adequate a study contracted from Christiansen Capital Advisors that reviewed several scenarios in which Massachusetts constructs casinos in various locations and Rhode Island does or does not permit Twin River, in Lincoln, to install table games. Although Christiansen did consider the effects that the different scenarios would have on Newport Grand revenue, it did not consider the possibility of adding table games to its offerings.
Reviewing the Capitol TV recording of the March 6 floor session at which the House approved the unamended legislation by a vote of 69 to 3, the Current found the only mention of a study to have been voiced by Rep. Joseph Trillo (R, Warwick):
I agree that we need to pass this legislation today, but I also want to remind this body, as Representative Lima already did, that we need to see a transparency process. One of the reasons why the last casino bill failed was because of the process that was in place. So we need to know what the numbers are going to be once the table games are put into both of these locations. We were assured last year that that was going to happen, and I totally believe that we will have a bill at some point in this legislative session to address that issue, to know what the state’s take will be if these table games get approved.
Trillo went on to clarify that his concern is that casino games at the two affirmed locations, Twin River and Newport Grand, will not “be enough for the state to preserve the $300 million of revenue that’s on the table.”
The Christiansen study found that the “likely case” revenue for the state if Massachusetts builds casinos and Rhode Island changes nothing will be $226.2 million in 2017, compared with $365.7 million without MA casinos. Adding table games to Twin River would bring Rhode Island government revenue at all locations up to $242.2, which is still a significant decrease from the 2011 revenue of $301.4 million. (Approximately one-tenth of that total came from Newport Grand.)
Asked whether he considered the Christiansen study adequate for the current legislation, Trillo told the Current that his motivation is to maintain state revenue. The study is therefore sufficient for the ballot-question bills, but he has submitted legislation (H7923) to create a special commission to “study and develop a strategy” for increasing Rhode Island’s gambling revenue.
Trillo caused a bit of a stir, in recent months, with public advocacy for a casino in the Quonset Point business park. He told WPRO radio talk show host Dan Yorke, “I want to build the biggest world class casino in the state of RI where we currently have resources that no one can compete with.”
That is not the only option that he would like to see explored. He wants to know, for example, whether larger payouts for gambling winners would “hold customers.” He also told the Current that other locations should be considered for casino construction, including Allens Ave. in Providence:
I would love to see it in the knowledge district, and it would make a lot of sense. Somewhere near the port on Allens Ave., where there is water access for large vessels, like cruise ships.
Representative Trillo also suggested that it would probably be necessary for the owner of any third casino to purchase Twin River and Newport Grand, so that the state would not have to compensate the owners of those two facilities for revenue lost due to in-state competition, or “slippage.”