Trump Wanted to Build Mega Casino In Johnston, RI – Who, What, When, Where and Why
Saturday, September 10, 2016
It was just ten years ago when Trump lobbied the Rhode Island General Assembly to block Harrah’s Entertainment’s plan for an exclusive gaming facility, as Trump wanted to build his mega-casino in Johnston, Rhode Island.
SEE THE PLAYERS BELOW
"It's awesome!" said Jessica Xavier, 26, a bartender at Corner Pocket Billiards & Grill in Johnston, in a February 2006 Boston Globe article. "I mean, come on, Donald Trump coming to Johnston, Rhode Island? That would be like him going to Nowheresville, Iowa. It's just cool and maybe we'd get celebrities."
In Rhode Island, the battle emerged between two mega-casino companies. On one side was Trump, the New York real estate developer and star of the then-new NBC TV show “The Apprentice.”
It was never clear if Trump’s efforts were honest or he was serving as a straw man for the Connecticut casinos interests to block Harrah’s coming into the market. Trump’s casino companies were just one-year out of bankruptcy.
On the other side was Harrah’s Entertainment, the mega-casino company (now named Caesar’s) who in 2006 had teamed with the Narragansett Indian Tribe to build Rhode Island's first full-service destination casino.
And the decision-makers in Rhode Island were a quirky range of Rhode Island officials -- some of who are now lobbyists, in jail or dead.
Trump in 2006 was at the height of his TV popularity – The Apprentice was in its second season. The economy was booming. “You’re fired,” was a national catch phrase. Casinos in Connecticut were setting records every month in revenue.
The Trump plan was to build a 120,000 mega-casino with 5,000 slots and 200 gaming tables. The Trump facility as proposed in 2006 included 500 hotel rooms, convention center, a full-service spa, restaurants and entertainment. The Trump facility would have been twice the size of Twin River Casino, which offers a 108 table games and only now is building a hotel which will have an estimated 200 rooms.
"They want to build what, and where?? That was my reaction when I was asked to meet with representatives of Trump Entertainment in 2006,” said State Representative Stephen Ucci in an interview with GoLocalProv.com, this week.
“The 'what' was a casino and the 'where' was in Johnston," continued Ucci. "I was a freshman legislator and the Trump folks sought me out to gauge interest and ultimately propose legislation for a competitive process to award a casino license in RI.”
Ucci: Trump Team, Proposal was "First Class"
“I was impressed with the background information they had and how they were willing to invest in the community. They wanted competition to level the playing field and wanted others to compete. It was around the time that Trump's son was born and they were joking about having to buy a gift,” said Ucci.
“They held an outreach meeting in Johnston at the 1025 club - it drew hundreds of people. They answered every question posed. The CEO James Perry and his attorney Joe Fusco were quite accessible and informative.”
And, the Trump plan promised a big payoff for Rhode Island.
A Johnston Sunrise article back in 2006 wrote, “Without slots in Massachusetts, the projected tax revenue to the state in year one from [a Trump] casino would be $332 million,” reads the letter signed by James B. Perry, chief executive officer of Trump Entertainment Resorts. “That compares to $144 million of state revenue that Harrah’s claims their project would produce by their third year of operation.” The $332 million figure was based on gaming revenue of approximately $1.1 billion.
The proposed Trump plan was a competitor to the proposed Harrah’s Entertainment proposal for West Warwick.
“At the time a Harrah’s Casino in West Warwick was the only one being considered. I attempted to amend the Harrah’s bill on the floor. I believe it got almost 30 votes. Ironically Joe Trillo voted against his candidate's proposal," said Ucci. SEE HOW MEMBERS VOTED BELOW
Trillo is the Honorary Chair of Rhode Island Trump campaign.
The Trump team worked under the name Ocean State Gaming Ventures, LLC, but was in fact Trump Entertainment Resorts Holdings of 1000 Boardwalk, Atlantic City New Jersey. The mailing address was the Trump Taj Mahal – that facility is scheduled to close permanently on October 10, 2016. The property is now controlled by Trump’s friend Carl Ichan.
In Rhode Island, back in 2006, the Trump lobbying team included:
Carolyn Murray, State House lobbyist
Chris Vitaly and Gerry Harrington of Capitol City Group, a lobbying firm
David Nunes, the controversial casino developer tied to the Kennedy clan and was the subject of a federal investigation. Nunes died in January of 2015. Nunes tried for years to build a casino in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Tom Hogan, a long-time Rhode Island lobbyist, no longer active in RI
And, former Alex and Ani legal counsel and lobbyist Robert Rainville
The battle for Trump's casino proposal centered around the House of Representatives in the spring and summer of 2006. The decision-makers on Trump and Harrah’s fate were:
House Speaker Bill Murphy of West Warwick – now a powerful State House lobbyist. Harrah’s strategically located their proposal in West Warwick to satisfy Murphy.
Majority Leader Gordon Fox, who is now serving a three-year sentence in federal prison. He is expected to be released in the summer of 2018.
House Finance Chair Steven Costantino, who now serves as a Commissioner in Vermont.
Then-Governor Don Carcieri was actively opposed to an expansion of gambling, and had strong feelings against any project tied to the Narragansett Indians due largely to the group's previous spokesperson and lobbyist Guy DuFault, who just the year before had alleged, on tape, that he had the names of Carcieri's mistresses (which Carcieri denied and denounced).
The Harrah’s legislation created a Constitutional Amendment and an exclusive right for the Harrah’s/Narragansett proposal – the company claimed it was necessary to remedy previous court decisions. But, Trump wanted the legislation to be open to all bidders.
The fate of the competing efforts came to a head on the House floor on May 25, 2006. The House Leadership – Murphy, Fox and Costantino maneuvered the debate and fought off the Trump efforts spearheaded by Ucci and others.
West Warwick State Representative Tim Williamson warned against being taken in by celebrity real-estate mogul Donald Trump: "This company is in trouble. It's highly leveraged. It doesn't have the money."
He said any other credible casino operator could have come to Smith Hill and made its case. "The question is this: Who prevented any company from coming into this state and delivering that package to this General Assembly? Which company was denied access? None," according to a Providence Journal article published a day after the vote.
After hours of debates and fighting off amendments from the pro-Trump forces, Harrah’s legislation was approved and the voters in November would decide on the proposal.
SEE HOW MEMBERS VOTED BELOW
A year after Trump’s failure in Rhode Island, the CEO of his Casino company was out. Perry was fired by Trump.
House Vote (for the Harrah's Legislation/Against the Trump Proposal
Carter, D-N. Kingstown
Church D-N. Smithfield
Corvese, D-N. Prov.
Faria, D-Central Falls
Melo, D-E. Providence
Moran, D-Central Falls
Murphy, D-W. Warwick
Rose, D-E. Providence
San Bento, D-Pawtucket
Savage, R-E. Providence
Schadone, D-N. Prov.
Shanley, D-S. Kingstown
Williamson, D-W. Warwick
Dennigan, D-E. Prov.
Ehrhardt, R-N. King.
Landroche, D-W. Warwick
McHugh, D-S. Kingstown
Watson, R-E. Greenwich
NOT VOTING (3)
Related Slideshow: How Do Twin River Casino and Plainridge Park Casino Match Up?
With Plainridge Park Casino opening in Plainville, MA, GoLocal looked into how the new facility will measure up against Twin River Casino in Lincoln, RI.
1.) Payout Percentage: How much of each dollar spent is won back by a customer.
Number of Hotel Rooms
Twin River: None
Plaindridge Park: None
Neither Twin River or Plainridge Park currently offer hotel accomodations for their customers. Instead, they suggest to search for nearby options.
However, plans to build a hotel at Twin River were approved in March of 2015 by the RI House of Representatives. A date for when construction would be finalized has not been announced.
Twin River: 2007
Plaindridge Park: 2015
Twin River's grounds were first established when Lincoln Downs was built in 1947. It officially became known as Twin River Casino in March of 2007.
The casino at Plainridge Park has just been finalized, but the facility first opened in 1999 as a racetrack.
Twin River: Twin River Event Center
Plaindridge Park: Revolution 1776 Lounge
Twin River's 29,000 square foot venue will play host to Whitesnake on July 24 and Boz Scaggs on August 1.
The Revolution 1776 Lounge will welcome Thirty 6 Red on June 25, Bon Jersey on June 27, and Shattered on June 28.
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