Twin River deal for tribe seems doubtful

By David Klepper
Providence, Rhode Island (AP) March 2011

Gov. Lincoln Chafee said recently that he wants to review all of Rhode Island’s options for a full-scale casino now that Massachusetts is considering allowing casinos there.

Chafee, an independent, met with Narragansett Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas last week at the Statehouse to discuss the tribe’s proposal to buy the Twin River slot parlor and turn the Lincoln, R.I, facility into a casino.

Thomas tells The Associated Press that reviewing the options is “better than a ‘no.””

A Twin River spokeswoman said the facility isn’t up for sale, and the owners favor asking Rhode Island voters to allow table games there.

Before the meeting, Chafee conceded that the tribe’s proposal may not work if Twin River isn’t for sale. But he said the state and Twin River could both lose if Massachusetts gets casinos and Rhode Island doesn’t.

“There are a lot of issues at play, and we need to take a look at everything,” he said last week.

Attempts to authorize table games in Rhode Island have failed before, but Twin River’s spokeswoman Patti Doyle said the facility’s owners like their chances this year. Potential competition from the north, state revenue shortfalls and the unemployment rate could make voters more supportive, she said.

“If Massachusetts goes ahead, then we’ll be behind the proverbial eight ball if we continue to do nothing,” Doyle said.

A study commissioned by Twin River suggests the state could create 650 jobs and generate $60 million in additional revenue for government, Doyle said.

Thomas said he doubts Rhode Island voters would authorize table games at casinos. Making Twin River a tribal casino is the easier option, he said.

Democratic House Speaker Gordon Fox said the debate in Massachusetts will pressure lawmakers into revisiting the issue this session. But he said he sees little promise in the tribe’s proposal. Federal laws governing tribal casinos – and changes to the state’s share of revenue – might only serve to muddle the debate, he said.

“It definitely becomes a more complicated discussion,” he said.