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PowerPlayer:John Taylor

Monday, June 20, 2011


As the state races closer and closer toward full-fledged casino gambling, John E. Taylor will be the name everyone is talking about. The 44 year old Rhode Island College grad is the Chairman of the Board of Twin River Holdings (which owns Twin River) and he believes expanding to table games is vital for economic development in the state.

Taylor was kind enough to chat with GoLocalProv and help explain how he ended up in the gaming industry and just how much Twin River’s expansion to table games could mean for Rhode island.

1) Word is you went from intern to Chief of Staff for Governor DiPrete. How does a kid growing up in Pawtucket, going to RIC, and working for the Governor end up a major player in the gambling industry?

Actually, I was never the Chief of Staff, but rather a Special Assistant to the Governor. I served on the Governor’s senior staff for the last two years of the Administration.

At a macro level, it’s easy to say that I was in the right place at the right time, and there was definitely some of that. More importantly, I think that any success that I have enjoyed professionally comes from a work ethic instilled in me by my parents who were always working multiple jobs to provide for my brother and me.

Tactically, how I got here is probably best defined by a strong interest in politics and again, being at the right place at the right time. In high school I worked for a state Representative candidate from Pawtucket. My candidate lost, but I met some interesting people working on the campaign, including Mike Smith who was involved with the state government internship program for college students. Once a freshman at RIC, I applied and was assigned to work in the Rhode Island State Senate. At the same time, I was holding down a job at Mr. USA 1 Hour Cleaners in Pawtucket. While in the State House, I ran into one of my Mr. USA customers, Nanci Martin, who was the Governor’s Press Secretary. One thing led to another and when my college internship ended, I was hired as a paid intern in the Governor’s Office.

While I started as a day student, I ended up going to RIC at night and working full time in the Governor’s office, and as is the case in many of those offices, the hours are long, but the experiences were great and I was able to work my onto the Senior Staff in a couple of years. I was also able to graduate from RIC in four years and with my class. While in the Governor’s Office, I met lots of people including Guy Snowden, the founder and then CEO of GTECH. . While I didn’t know much about gambling, I was intrigued with GTECH’s intersection of public policy and gambling, and wanted to leverage my public policy experiences from the business side. It was a good fit for me. Once at GTECH, I worked on the Executive staff for a couple of years and then like any good staff person wanted to run something on the line. At the time the company was looking to branch out beyond the lottery space and into other forms of gaming like video lottery and racinos. I took responsibility for building the GTECH business beyond its core lottery base.

2) It doesn't seem like moving to table gaming is really that much of an expansion. Why is this something Rhode Islanders should support?

Many don’t believe that it’s much of an expansion at all and it really isn’t. If you walk the floor at Twin River today, it looks a lot like a traditional casino. We have all of the elements, with the exception of traditional table games.

What it would mean to Rhode Islanders is that we would be able to create an incremental 650 jobs, create $60 million in economic activity, and it would help us to compete successfully against Massachusetts which will most certainly have casinos soon. Today at Twin River we generate over $290 million in government benefit to the state in the form of taxes. Over half of our customers come from Massachusetts. When they expand, and they will, the effects to our business will be devastating. With tables we will be able to more successfully compete against the influx of commercial casinos with lower tax rates that the Commonwealth is preparing to launch.

We have a great relationship with the Town of Lincoln and pay careful attention to any issue that may impact that relationship. We have done a series of polls in both the Town and Statewide and overwhelmingly, the voters support our efforts to broaden the product mix.

3) How much does table gaming actually mean? Is the goal to actually compete with Foxwoods and Mohegan?

As I mentioned it means a lot.

Today Twin River has one of the highest gaming tax rates in the industry; we are not a traditional destination, and we don’t have a complete product mix. We have been so successful because we are a convenience casino that is easy to get to and we can interact with our customers in a way that our competitors cannot. We have done a great job at maximizing our superior location, but with casinos coming to Massachusetts, we are going to lose our competitive advantage.

With table games, we will be able to more aggressively compete for the regional player, both with new casinos in Massachusetts, as well as the casinos in Connecticut. With our tax rate, we will likely never become a true destination casino, but with a broader product mix, we will be more competitive.

4) Take us through a day in your life.

As a non-executive Chairman, I am not involved in the day to day operation of the facility. We have a tremendous management team, led by George Papanier, our CEO that is successfully growing our business in a very difficult economic environment, while our competitors are not.

In addition to the traditional board governance responsibilities, my focus is to work with our owners and senior management team on the strategic direction for the business; consider the public policy and regulatory implications inherent in our business, and ensure that we continue to be a good partner with all of the stakeholders in our business including our employees, vendors, and most importantly the State of Rhode Island and its citizens.

In addition to my role at Twin River, I am a gaming industry consultant serving a variety of clients, mostly focused on macro public policy issues facing the industry, particularly as it relates to technology. Most recently before joining Twin River, I was the CEO of GameLogic, Inc. a Boston based gaming marketing/technology company that was sold to Scientific Games (NASDAQ: SGMS)

Finally, I have a wonderful family – a wife and three children from elementary to high school - who are all quite active and moving in many directions. When I’m not traveling, I spend quite a lot of time trying to keep up with them.

5) Tell us something nobody knows about you.

One of the first major business deals that I negotiated was with Lee Iacocca, the former CEO of Chrysler and Allen Paulson the founder and former CEO of Gulfstream Aerospace. Lee, Allen and a couple of their retired friends had created a small casino gaming company and wanted a partner. At the time GTECH was looking to expand beyond the traditional lottery space and Lee and his partners wanted to make sure their projects were successful. The relationship made a lot of sense for both sides, which is always a good thing in a joint venture.

Quick Hitters:

Role Model:
Ben Mondor

Best Restaurant: In Rhode Island, where we have so many great ones, I enjoy the following:
Fred and Steve’s, Twin River – Steak
Mike’s Kitchen at the Tabor-Franchi Post – Italian
Matunuck Oyster Bar – Seafood

Best Beach: Westerly Town Beach – great waves and people watching!

Best Books You've Read In The Last Year: Bottom of the 33rd by Dan Barry; Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Give Some Advice To The Next John Taylor:
Written and oral communications are critical – if you can communicate you have lots of options
Be self driven and always work hard – don’t wait for others tell you what to do
Be open to new experiences – being parochial is not always a good thing; get out, experience new and different things; and take some chances


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