A proposal to build a casino in Tiverton near the Massachusetts border is moving forward, with the Rhode Island General Assembly scheduled to vote this week on sending the question to voters.
The legislation would guarantee at least $3 million each year to Tiverton, a town of just under 16,000 people, if the casino gets built. The state would make up the difference if gambling proceeds from the video lottery machines and table games fall short.
Casino operator Twin River Management Group wants to build the 85,000-square-foot Tiverton casino and hotel complex to replace its aging Newport Grand after the voters of Newport rejected a proposed expansion in 2012.
State Sen. John Pagliarini, a Tiverton Republican who lives a few miles from the proposed site, said the casino will provide needed income for the state and have minimal effects on Tiverton residents. He co-sponsored the bipartisan bill to put it on the November ballot. If lawmakers approve putting it on the ballot, it must then win a majority of votes statewide and in Tiverton.
Compared with the Newport casino, which Pagliarini said “sticks out like a big sore thumb,” the remote Tiverton site is “very well-selected” near a highway on-ramp and on the state line just across from Fall River, Massachusetts, he said. He also trusts projections that it will bring far more money to the state than Newport Grand has been generating.
But Tiverton Town Councilman Brett Pelletier questions whether a casino is a sustainable economic engine, given the increased competition caused by a proliferation of New England gambling venues. He also worries about addiction and other social ills.
“It’s a black hole, and that’s by design,” he said. “The design is not to energize the neighborhood. It’s to get everybody to your casino.”
John Taylor, Twin River’s chairman, recently testified at legislative hearings that he projects the Tiverton casino would generate at least $47 million to state coffers and as much as $70 million if no competing casinos are built in southeastern Massachusetts. His company also operates Twin River Casino in Lincoln and casinos in Mississippi and Colorado.
Taylor said he had held about 40 meetings with Tiverton residents.
Pelletier said some residents are still nervous about a facility that would be “so much larger in scale than anything we’ve ever had” in town.
“I don’t want to be left with a Newport Grand in 20 years,” he said. “It’s not a nice place to be. And if it were, we’d still be talking about it being in Newport and not in Tiverton.”
House and Senate committees have scheduled Tuesday and Wednesday hearings that could send the legislation to a full vote in both chambers by the end of the week.
Email: [email protected].