Former Lincoln Council President Concerned About Twin River Table Games
Monday, June 18, 2012
A former Lincoln Town Council President is concerned his town and Newport will be left on sideline as the state profits from a table game expansion at Twin River and Newport Grand.
Dean Lees Jr. is questioning language in the casino gaming bill passed last week that he believes will “remove any possibility of receiving any revenue from ‘class 3’ gambling that includes table games and slot machines.”
The bill ensures the state will receive 18 percent of the net revenue from table games such as blackjack, craps and roulette. In order for either casino to expand to tables, voters across the state and in Lincoln (for Twin River) and Newport (for Newport Grand) must approve a referendum on the November ballot. But for Lincoln, Lees believes the current referendum will benefit only the state and Twin River, but not the town.
Lees’ major concern is that Lincoln’s primary take of casino revenue comes from Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs) and that the current referendum will allow the town to receive one percent of table game revenues if VLT revenues drop, the language only allows the town to receive the table game funds for four years.
Once that four-year provision expires, Lincoln could face a multi-million dollar deficit, Lees predicted.
“It’s almost like you’re getting four years to live,” he said.
Massachusetts a Concern
But state lawmakers say the casino gaming expansion will protect state revenue, maintain the competitiveness of the state’s two gaming facilities, and safeguard those employed by Rhode Island gaming facilities.
“The primary goal of this legislation is to preserve the revenue Rhode Island receives from Twin River and Newport Grand,” said Sen. Maryellen Goodwin, Chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Lottery. “That means providing a fair tax rate on the more labor-intensive table games which enables the facilities to thrive while taking steps to mitigate, as much as possible, new competition from Massachusetts. While the effective tax rate maintains Rhode Island’s position as among the highest in the nation, it is also fair to the facilities which we all want to see succeed.”
But that’s not good enough for Lees.
“State legislators should have caught this,” he said. “We’re completely out of the equation. However you want to interpret it, it’s a negative. I can’t fathom how this can be an oversight.”
State officials have continuously expressed concern over the impact casino gaming in Massachusetts will have on Rhode Island. The Bay State is set to build three resort-style casinos and a slot parlor over the next decade and experts have predicted that Rhode Island may suffer.
Gambling is Rhode Island’s third largest source of revenue. Estimate show that Twin River stands to generate $60 million annually in estimated table game revenue when fully operational. Newport Grand expects to generate $5 million each year.
“I am pleased the Assembly did its diligence and adopted this legislation as we said we would last year,” said House Finance chairman Helio Melo. “We promised the voters that we would provide the details of the contract before they decide on the casino question in November, and by passing this legislation we have lived up to that promise. I encourage the voters to approve the referendum and protect the vital revenues and jobs that come to our state from these facilities.”
“Don’t Know What to Expect”
But Lees remains skeptical. He said that if Lincoln can’t be assured that it will receive more revenue, residents should vote against the expansion. He said voting in favor of the current referendum would bring on a “financial crisis.”
Lees said there are just too many unknowns for him to support the expansion.
“The voters of Lincoln will not be made to look like fools,” he said. “We don’t know what to expect.”
Dan McGowan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.