In addition to casting their votes for local and national politicians last week, Rhode Island residents responded to seven statewide ballot questions on Election Day. Questions one and two, which received the most political attention and were the subject of inflammatory television advertisements, asked voters to determine whether table games - such as blackjack and poker - should be allowed in the state's two casinos, the Newport Grand and Twin River Casino.
In order for the measures to be approved, the policies required voter majorities both in the state and in the municipalities where the facilities are located - Newport and Lincoln, respectively. State support was strong for passage of both measures, but while Lincoln residents overwhelmingly approved the measure for Twin River, Newport residents voted against table games at their local casino by an 8 percent margin.
Prior to the election, supporters of the measures campaigned on the economic benefits that table games would bring to the state. Combined profits from both casinos currently raise approximately $300 million in revenue each year for Rhode Island, making gambling the state's third-largest industry.
Twin River expects to bring in a minimum of $18 million in additional revenue with the introduction of table games, said Patti Doyle, a representative for the casino. The games will be integrated by July 2013, she added.
The casino also expects to create 350 new jobs for Rhode Island, where the unemployment rate remains one of the nation's highest at more than 10 percent. Open positions currently include table-game dealers, food and beverage personnel and security workers, Doyle said.
Twin River held a career fair yesterday that drew thousands of interested applicants, officially beginning the recruitment process for both experienced and novice dealers. While they are already accepting applications, Doyle said the casino will not begin the formal hiring process until 2013.
Lincoln will also earn increased tax revenue from Twin River. The City Council now expects approximately $800,000 in tax revenue from the casino each year, said Keith Macksoud, council president. Macksound said revenue collected from Twin River will be shifted into a "restricted capital improvement account," which is used to finance improvements to town infrastructure and fund development. The council previously used the account's funds to recuperate local recreational fields and school buildings, and future plans include improvements to the public library and police department headquarters, he added.
"We're able to do these capital improvements that a lot of the surrounding towns and cites are not able to afford, all without raising taxes," Macksoud said.
Jean Marie Napolitano, a councilwoman from Newport, said the city was expected to gain approximately $1 million in revenue from the addition of table games. But now that the measure has failed, the council will have to devise alternate means for raising funds, most likely through a tax increase for residents.
"Obviously I was disappointed," Napolitano said. "I don't know what to expect now in terms of the economy."
Newport businesses rely heavily on tourism, and many local owners were afraid of the effects increased gambling might have on the tourism industry, Napolitano added. Rumors that gambling would be introduced on the Newport waterfront really affected business owners and residents who are worried about maintaining profits, she said.
"They were afraid that we'd be taken over by organized crime, by prostitution and pickpockets," she said. "For all the angst that people have, I live close to the facility, and I have never had any problems with it."
Representatives from the Newport Grand could not be reached for comment.
Both the Newport Grand and Twin River will face increased regional competition when Massachusetts finishes construction on a series of new facilities that will also incorporate table games. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission estimates three new regional casinos and a slots parlor will be completed by 2014.
Doyle said Massachusetts residents currently comprise about half of Twin River's customers, and both casinos already face competition from large facilities in Connecticut that target Rhode Island residents. Connecticut's Mohegan Sun, the second-largest casino in the United States, is offering special discounts and packages for visitors from the Ocean State this weekend.
"We have to be prepared for some attrition," Doyle said. "This gave us an important tool to remain competitive."