How Massachusetts Casinos Will Affect Rhode Island’s

The Newport Grand slots parlor.
The Newport Grand slots parlor. –AP

If everything goes according to plan, Massachusetts will have two full resort casinos and a slots parlor open by the start of 2018. By then, a third full casino will also at least be underway, in southeastern Massachusetts.

And that’s bad news for Rhode Island’s gambling industry, especially the Newport Grand slots parlor.

The Providence Journal reports that the state is prepared to see gambling revenues at Twin River Casino in Lincoln and the Newport Grand fall 38 percent if a casino winds up in Taunton. That’s the worst case scenario, the state projects, but things aren’t pretty for the gambling industry any way you slice it.

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While Twin River, which has full table games, would be better protected if the final Massachusetts license goes to Fall River, that’s still just a quick hop across the state border from Newport Grand. In that case, the slots parlor could see its annual revenues fall from $44.7 million to $13.6 million within five years—if it can even manage to stay open.

Newport Grand has tried to drive more revenue of late, and referendums have been held in each of the last two elections asking whether to introduce full table games. The most recent effort came on Tuesday and failed (statewide voters approved of the plan, but Newport voters did not) on the same day that Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly decided to allow casinos here.

This isn’t exactly news for Rhode Island, which has known for some time that casinos next door could spell trouble for its own (and thus its tax revenue). Estimates have held that Massachusetts residents spend about $1 billion per year gambling out of state, and they’ll now have the option to keep that money closer to home.

Meanwhile, Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods have both tried to open casinos in the Bay State to insulate themselves from the possibility of seeing revenues diluted by Massachusetts casinos. Foxwoods will open an outlet mall next year in order to “ratchet up competition for gamblers and shoppers being lured by Massachusetts,’’ The Associated Press reports. And Maine, home of two casinos, has also pointed to the budding Massachusetts industry as a threat.

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Anti-casino activists argued in the run-up to Election Day that the northeast has become saturated as a casino market, putting the Massachusetts projects at risk of failure.

But that argument was countered with the idea that since Massachusetts voters are already heading to Rhode Island or Connecticut to gamble, the state might as well try and keep those dollars at home—and maybe, with the power of a brand like Steve Wynn’s, even attract some money from out of state.

The Upshot took a look at this distinction earlier this week. Yes, the U.S. market has grown saturated, but all that means is that states that don’t have casinos see an opportunity for found money. When it comes to expanding gambling within state lines, however, it isn’t as attractive because all that saturation means there’s nothing left to gain.

That may be one reason that some sports executives expect states to wade further into mostly-uncharted gambling waters in the coming years, by working to legalize sports betting. It’s another opportunity to advance their gaming industries without hindering what’s already there.

As for that southeastern Massachusetts license? The process has already been delayed significantly. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has hopes of building in Taunton, but it has been locked in a federal approval process. The process has also been opened up to commercial developers. If a commercial developer does wind up with the license, it would not preclude the tribe from eventually building its own casino as well—meaning there could ultimately be two casinos in the same region. The due date for interested commercial applicants was previously Dec. 1, but the Massachusetts Gaming Commission on Thursday voted to push it back until the end of January, with the awarding of the license planned for next fall. Names like Foxwoods and development company KG Urban have been connected to the region. Whichever way the chips fall, it won’t look very good for Rhode Island’s gaming establishments.

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