Casinos Pour Millions into Table Games Question
Monday, October 29, 2012
Twin River and Newport Grand have now poured more than $4 million into the campaigns to convince Rhode Islanders to vote in favor of bringing table games such as blackjack, craps and roulette to the state’s two casinos on next week’s ballot, according to a review a campaign finance reports.
The majority of the $3,987,711 Twin River has spent has gone toward toward polling, advertising and consulting fees, spending $3,987,711. Twin River’s political action committee (PAC) had contributed $7,700 to more than 20 lawmakers, including every member of House and Senate leadership, since the beginning of the year, but the PAC hasn’t filed a campaign finance report since June.
The spending is not unprecedented. In 2006, Las Vegas-based Harrah’s Entertainment spent more than $12 million in an attempt to open a casino in West Warwick, but voters overwhelmingly shot down the proposal.
In August, Twin River spokesperson Patti Doyle said the casino’s board chairman John Taylor has attended Rotary and Chamber of Commerce meetings from across the state, talking about the importance of approving the table game question in order to bring jobs to Rhode Island. She said the campaign was working on “building an online community via our website where you can register to volunteer, and via Facebook and Twitter.”
“The education campaign isn't just about the paid media,” Doyle said at the time. “We've spent the summer months employing a street team of college students to be visible with education materials at a host of community events throughout the state.”
Campaigns Promise Hundreds of Jobs
The two ballot referendums (questions 1 and 2) will need to be supported by the majority of voters statewide as well as the town of Lincoln (for Twin River) and Newport (for Newport Grand) in November. It is possible for only one of the referendums to earn support.
Both campaigns have touted the benefits of voting in favor of table games, with Twin River claiming it will create 650 new jobs while preserving 900 jobs. Newport Grand says voting to expand to table games will preserve 200 jobs and create 50 more while protecting the $30 million the casino contributes in taxes to the state annually.
But with Massachusetts committed to building three resort-style casinos and a slot parlor over the next decade, supporters of full-fledged gaming say the state could face economic peril if the referendum fails.
Gambling related revenue is the state’s third-largest source of income, at more than $300 million each year and Twin River has provided the state with over $2.5 billion since 1992. A report issued earlier this year by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC) suggested that table games would benefit Rhode Island, but it also noted that the state will not be able to depend on gambling income as much once the casinos are built in the Bay State.
“The advent of casino gaming in the commonwealth of Massachusetts – under any scenario – will likely negatively impact both revenues for the casino operators in Rhode Island, and the state of Rhode Island itself,” the RIPEC report stated. “While it appears that the opening of casinos in Massachusetts may occur later than originally anticipated, they will open in the next few years, and that Twin River, Newport Grand and the state will all see revenues decline. Allowing Twin River and Newport Grand to operate table games will offset some of these projected revenue losses; however, it is also clear that the state can no longer rely on gaming revenues to support the same share of government services once casinos open in Massachusetts.”
Opponents Line Up
Still, not everyone is convinced table games are the answer for Rhode Island. In Lincoln, District 17 State Senate candidate John Cullen, a Democrat, is urging voters to oppose the plan, claiming the town may now receive acut from table games.
“What's good about zero percent for Lincoln,” Cullen wrote in an op-ed earlier this year. “The bankers and the [General Assembly have a seat at the table games, while Lincoln and Newport get thrown under the table! This time Lincoln's no casino vote will get us a seat at the table!”
Cullen is joined by former Lincoln Town Council President Dean Lees Jr. in opposition to the proposal. Both men argue that the town will not benefit from table games.
“It is important for Lincoln’s voters not to be intimidated,” Lees Jr. said earlier this year. “For years, state and local officials have said that we may lose revenue to other states and that we need to compete. With Foxwoods facing an over 2.3 billion dollar deficit, Mohegan Sun laying off 346 employees and Vegas Casinos in the red, these only show me that gambling is not the answer to compete with other states, nor to put false hopes on increasing our revenues to manage our ever-failing economy.”
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