Closed-door meetings targeting state’s share from adding table games at Twin River + Newport Grand
With a growing number of proposals for expanding gambling in nearby Massachusetts, Rhode Island voters will decide this November whether to add table games at Twin River and Newport Grand. Yet it remains unclear when Rhode Islanders will learn the details about one of the most important factors regarding their vote — the percentage of revenue the state would receive from expanded gambling at Newport and Twin River.
A working group of staffers from the House and Senate, Governor Lincoln Chafee’s legal team, the Lottery, and the state Department of Business Regulation has held about a half-dozen closed-door meetings on the subject, says House spokesman Larry Berman. He says the process is meant to help inform legislative leaders as the state pursues talks on the prospective split with Twin River and Newport Grand.
Berman says the working group is “coming up with some key numbers — what other states do,” in terms of the split from table games.
With gambling providing Rhode Island’s third-largest source of revenue, the state receives 61 percent of the revenue from the thousands of video lottery terminals at Twin River and Newport Grand. The national average for what states get from table game revenue is far lower; Twin River spokeswoman Patti Doyle says a “starting point” of 12.5 percent “is a really good place to start the conversation.”
Including a statewide question in November on adding table games at Twin River was part of the last budget (adding a Newport Grand question was approved in this session), and it called for this:
The legislature shall, by enactment of comprehensive legislation during the 2012 session, determine the terms and conditions pursuant to which casino gaming would be operated in the state if it is authorized as set forth herein
But it remains unclear when the envisioned revenue split between the gambling halls and the state will become public.
Berman says the intention is for the split to be specified in stand-alone legislation and vetted through committee hearings “before the end of the session.” Yet asked if the split might emerge as an amendment during the budget debate at the very close of the sesssion, he says, “Anything is possible.”
Chafee spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger says that although the governor’s office is being kept informed, talks for arriving at a split on table game revenue are “mostly under the legislative purview.”
John Marion, executive director of the non-partisan good government group Common Cause of Rhode Island, offered this comment on whether this process is sufficiently transparent:
[O]ften important issues such as this do not get decided until the last minute when there is little time to evaluate the merits. Already the self imposed deadline for introducing, and holding an initial hearing have passed, and no bill has surfaced. Perhaps it was an oversight on the part of pro-transparency organizations such as Common Cause not to insist on extra protections for the public in this process.
Gambling is a unique public policy issue and in other jurisdiction is subject to special conflict of interest provisions and lobbying disclosure rules. We would hope the legislative leadership will make sure any decision has sufficient time for public scrutiny and if needed changes that might be needed based on public input.
Doyle, the Twin River spokeswoman, says talks about the split on table games have started between legislative leaders and Twin River. Although initital conversations are taking place behind closed doors, she says, “It would be a mistake to assume [this] would be anything but a public process.”
Newport Grand CEO Diane Hurley called the state’s share of VLT revenue the “the highest VLT tax in the country.” She declined comment on her preferred split with the state from the possible addition of table games in Newport.