20 Aug 2014
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Deal Reached in Newport Grand Sale

But will voters have a different sentiment than in 2012, when table games at Newport Grand was shot down?

Deal Reached in Newport Grand Sale
Former Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino and a team of high-profile investors announced they have signed a purchase and sales agreement for Newport Grand on condition they get permission to install table games at what they hope to transform into a luxury casino.

Paolino and Peter de Savary — the same de Savary who just sold Merrillton Mansion in Newport for $8.76 million — along with Paul Roiff, released sketches from Northeast Collaborative Architects that depict a radically different looking structure than the existing Newport Grand, which could be mistaken for a chain furniture store if not for the garish "SLOTS" adorning the front facade.

But the deal hinges on whether Newport voters would support table games at Newport Grand. In 2012, Newport citizens rejected table games by about 600 votes.

Statewide, voters approved table games at Newport Grand and Twin River in Lincoln with 67 percent in the majority.

That means it's really up to Newporters to decide if Paolino and his partner's vision will come to fruition and the group will be pushing to get a measure on the ballot in time for the November election.

The announcement today will not come as a surprise to many, since Paolino confirmed the deal was in the works last month.

I n an interview, Paolino said he envisions a jewel of a structure greeting tourists and visitors to Newport after they come off the bridge.

"We have a concern not just as investors, but as neighbors," Paolino said in a telephone interview. "The last thing we want to see is Donald Trump or some Las Vegas group coming in here with neon signs and changing the character of the city. Our interest is not to move it or make it into a Las Vegas style casino, but more of a boutique look," he said. "It would look a lot nicer as a Monte Carlo-style casino and not a bunch of neon signs."

Opponents of expanded gambling in Newport, meanwhile, are mobilizing to fight the plan.

The group Citizens Concerned about Casino Gambling has been arguing against expansion at Newport Grand for years. They proclaim that Newport is a world-class destination and doesn't need a casino. Instead, investments should be made in sailing events, music festivals, an innovation hub for future jobs and more. 

They are concerned that the casino would absorb business that would otherwise be spent in the city as they tend to "work hard to keep their customers captive with low price restaurants, entertainment and drinks," according to one of a series of ads on their Web site, www.nocasinori.com.

Or, as one Patch reader, Alex, put it: "How about making the state business friendly? Instead of driving business out, create incentives to attract businesses that provide good jobs instead of continuing this lazy reliance on gambling revenue. In the meantime, if Lincoln wants it, let them expand, build a hotel, etc.. But why does Newport have to have this constantly shoved down its throat?"

Revenues from the slot parlor are down substantially in recent years, generating about $25 million in revenue for the state — a far cry from the $50 million it used to garner according to Paolino's figures. Newport receives about $1 million per year in revenue from Newport Grand.

Meanwhile jobs have been reduced. Of the former 225 workers there, just 175 are left and 35 percent of those workers have seen hours cut. 

All this comes as Foxwoods is talking about building a large facility off Route 24 in Fall River and "for anybody to drive down Route 24, past a $1 billion casino, then pay a toll on the bridge to go to the slot parlor — never going to happen," Paolino said. "I think [Newport Grand] will be out of business."

Talk of a possible deal comes at the same time lawmakers in the Rhode Island General Assembly are trying to figure out a solution on whether tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge will remain in place and how to maintain the bridges that connect Aquidneck Island to the mainland. 

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