The operator of Twin River is buying Newport Grand while vowing not to seek the addition of table games at Newport "without broad-based community support."
"For the time being, I think it's safe to say it's pretty much business as usual from a Newport Grand perspective, but with the added benefit of having Twin River as a sister property," John E. Taylor Jr., board chairman of Twin River Worldwide Holdings, the parent of Twin River and Twin River Management Group, said in a telephone interview.
While declining to disclose the terms, Twin River said Wednesday it has acquired the interest in the purchase and sale agreement for Newport Grand held by Joseph R. Paolino Jr. and Paul Roiff. The purchase faces approval by the state Department of Business Regulation, among other hurdles, although Twin River said it expects the deal to close by June 30.
Gambling, Rhode Island's third-largest revenue source, is expected to take a hit approaching $100 million a year from the pending addition of casinos and other gambling venues in Massachusetts. At the same time, Newport voters have staunchly opposed the addition of table games at Newport Grand, a former jai alai fronton-turned-slot parlor.
Governor Gina Raimindo pointed to the shifting casino landscape in offering qualified support for Twin River's move to buy Newport Grand.
"Due to anticipated gaming competition from our neighbors, our budget challenges are projected to worsen in the years ahead," Raimondo said in a statement. "We need to examine ways to remain competitive. Twin River has been an important corporate citizen. Its proposed purchase of Newport Grand may help reverse the trend of declining revenues from the Aquidneck Island gaming facility. We look forward to learning more about the proposal."
Taylor said Twin River sees an opportunity in Newport, even without the addition of table games.
"We think that we're uniquely qualified to manage Newport Grand," he said. "We have significant infrastructure in the state, which will allow for operating efficiencies, technical integrations, and most importantly, unique marketing opportunities that we think we can exploit between the two properties."
Taylor said Twin River is considering additional investments in Newport Grand over time. He added, "It's pretty clear to us that the voters there are opposed to any expansion of gaming and we're just not going to go back and ask them that question again until there's broad-based support that exists in the community .... We are not going to go before the city voters with a table game referendum in 2016."
Asked if Twin River hopes to eventually add table games at Newport, Taylor said, "We're not considering that as part of our operating strategy or an element of it. We think that we will have an operating strategy that allows us to be successful without it."
Liz Taber, the president of Citizens Concerned About Casino Gambling, responded with this statement: “We note that Twin River Management Group stated they will not pursue a ballot measure in the 2016 election cycle. However, we will remain active and engaged to ensure that they honor their pledge to our community. We will also continue to work to promote policies to help small businesses and support sustainable economic development projects.”
Adding table games has been a politically sensitive issue in Newport. Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, a Newport resident, last year reversed her support for a referendum -- later defeated -- asking voters to approve an expansion of gambling.
Newport Grand employs about 175 people and generates about $26 million in annual revenue for the state. Its attractions include almost 1,100 slot machines, virtual table games, a restaurant, and live weekend music and comedy shows.
This post has been updated.