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Harrah's, Tribe Unveils New Casino Plan

Harra's Entertainment announced its most detailed proposal for a casino in Rhode Island yesterday, and plans to showcase its stylish glass and stone design on heavily landscaped land.

The $650 million development, which will be built on an 85-acre industrial park, will include a grand swimming pool, a 55,000-square-foot convention center and a 1,500-seat entertainment hall.

The plan requires legislative approval and support from voters in host cities and statewide referendums. Legislation for casinos has not yet been introduced.

The Las Vegas company has also expanded its vision for future development in response to a $700 million expansion project announced last month at Foxwood Resort Casino in Matthew Tuckett, Conn., just 11 miles from Rhode Island.

Since Hara first proposed a casino in Rhode Island three years ago, the Mohegan Line in Montville, Connecticut, has completed a $1.1 billion expansion. And in Massachusetts, a change in political leadership has made it more likely to gamble on slot machines in the area, said Representative Timothy A. Williamson of The-West Warwick, who will sponsor the Rhode Island casino bill.

"The single most important factor is breaking the monopoly of Connecticut," said Jan Jones, Harrer's senior vice president of government relations, yesterday. "Eastern Connecticut is blossoming into a tourist destination, and Rhode Island is way behind."

Haras said yesterday that it controls the entire 85 acres off Route 95, where it hopes to build restaurants, spas, shops, 500-room hotels, 2,500-space car parks and ground parking for 2,750 vehicles.

The new artist's rendering is a stark difference from the previous portrait, which showed a tall black tower next to a fountain and a vast expanse of grass. The modified photo highlights two sky blue glass buildings that reflect tall trees and bright skies.

The casino has 115,000 square feet of gambling space, with 3,000 slot machines and 100 table games.

However, many details remain a mystery, including the specific height of the proposed 19-story hotel, the plan for a new interchange on Route 95, and the site plan.

Supporters gathered at a press conference yesterday at the casino's new headquarters on Main Street to shake hands and say "I'm back."

Officials in Williamson and Hara predicted that the new bill would be accepted by the state Supreme Court. The court rejected last year's bill as unconstitutional after it passed the House and Senate and vetoed Governor Karkieri.

"It's a very good day for the tribe," said Matthew Thomas, chief executive of Naragonset, who said the tribe will receive job opportunities and a $20 million salary in its first year at the casino.

City Council President Jean-Marie Di Masi also said she pledged to donate $14.7 million to West Warwick in the first year, giving the town the money needed to pave roads, repair city buildings and build a new senior center.

"We need help," she said yesterday. "Our town buildings are being neglected."

Harrah's has also pledged $100 million in licensing fees and revenue-sharing agreements with the state, with two-year guarantees to cover the state's revenue declines caused by business losses at Lincoln Park and the Newport Grand. The company claims West Warwick casinos will have little impact on the two Rhode Island rivals that generate huge revenue for the state.

According to Hara, the project will create 3,015 construction jobs and the casino will employ 3,184 people. The company will employ unionized workers and rely heavily on local merchants for supplies and services. The casino will also reportedly siphon off funds flowing from Massachusetts and Rhode Island to Connecticut. Residents of Rhode Island and Massachusetts spent $1 billion on the Foxwood and Mohegan lines last year, and with that money, they could have supported public services there, she said.

Since 1998, 200 Rhode Island businesses have held conventions and meetings in Foxwood, Jones said. "They walk right through the place every time they travel to Connecticut," she said.

The company hopes for swift legislative approval and a special election in November. However, the outlook for the bill at the general meeting is uncertain.

Jeff Neal, a spokesman for Governor Karkieri, said yesterday that the governor will veto any casino bill this year. He said casinos would encourage corruption, reduce state revenues, and "destroy nearby businesses." And now a bill for the casino, which will be run by the state lottery commission, may have to survive another legal challenge.

Local opponents and the Rhode Island Hospitality and Tourism Association are also predicting the dismal outcome of the gambling project.

Association spokeswoman Amy Kempe said casinos could trigger closures among small hotels, restaurants, and retail stores across the state. The Dunkin' Donuts Center and the taxpayer-funded Rhode Island Convention Center can be scaled back and compete with existing tourist attractions, such as the Newport mansion.

"Our local restaurants can't compete with the huge discounts that casinos will offer," Kempe said. "They won't be spending those dollars at our local restaurants and entertainment establishments."

"The Providence Center for the Performing Arts, which sells 500,000 tickets a year, may close for the first time in 27 years, closing the 77-year-old historic building that has been restored for $40 million in state, federal and local expenses," said Lynne Singleton, the president.

"It's similar to Dracula, but it doesn't go away," Singleton said of the casino offer. "If shows go there, shows aren't here."

West Warwick Citizen Against The Casino, a community organization, said the casino would bring a lot of traffic to the local side streets and shine bright lights on neighborhood homes overnight.

"Our quality of life will be affected," said Frank Lombardo, the group's vice president. "Indians and Hara say they won't cross our neighborhood. Yes, that's right."
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Friday, February 9, 2024

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