Tiverton Rhode Island, Eyes Casino Plan

Just when you think the casino competition in New England couldn't get more complicated - it does.

Rhode Island is now upping the ante with a new proposal for a Twin River casino in Tiverton, just 400 feet from the Massachusetts state line, and only miles from two other planned Bay State casinos. The Mashpee Wampanoags are moving on building a tribal casino in Taunton, as the Massachusetts Gaming Commission is weighing whether even to move ahead with a review of a $650 million Rush Street Gaming casino in Brockton, the last standing competitor for the state’s Southeastern Massachusetts casino license.

Twin River Worldwide Holdings Inc. wants to shift the license for its faltering Newport Grand casino to a 23-acre site that's the last patch of woods before Tiverton turns into Fall River, close to Routes 24 and 81. It would be a $75 million development with 1,000 slot machines, 32 table games and an 84-room hotel. Twin River said neither the casino nor the hotel would be visible from nearby roads and would face northwest, away from residential neighborhoods and towards Route 24.

It is, however, just 25 to 40 miles from Brockton and Taunton and from the existing Twin River in Lincoln, R.I., and the four-month-old Plainridge Park Casino slots parlor and harness horse racing track in Plainville, Mass. The confluence of existing and planned casinos has sparked fears for regulators and investors alike of a major casino glut in the northern Rhode Island/southeastern Massachusetts area.

Tiverton's town council plans a hearing at 7 p.m. Monday, to be followed by a vote, but it’s just the first of a number of steps before the casino can actually get built.

"The vote is whether or not to put the question on the ballot, to request the Rhode Island General Assembly to put the question on the ballot for the 2016 general election," Tiverton town administrator Matthew Wojcik said in an interview Thursday afternoon.

The question would have to win a majority of votes in the state and a majority in Tiverton for the casino to move ahead.

Twin River has said, however, it will not pursue the casino plan unless the state builds a roundabout at the current congested, dangerous intersection of Canning Boulevard, Stratford Road, and Hurst Lane, which would include an exit to the new casino approach road. (Canning Boulevard is designated Route 81 from the state line until it merges with Stratford Road, which becomes Route 81 from there south.)

The roundabout is estimated to cost $2.1 million, and it’s unclear whether the financially straitened Rhode Island Department of Transportation can come up with the money.

"There is no other safe way to peel the traffic off of that interchange," Wojcik said.

John Taylor, chairman of Twin River Worldwide Holdings, told necn affiliate WJAR-TV in Providence earlier this week that the roundabout is critical to their vision of the site.

"You can’t have a convenience casino that's not convenient to get to," Taylor said.

While there haven't been large expressions of support for or opposition to the casino plan in Tiverton, and the current debate is only over whether it should go to a vote, Wojcik said, "Twin River's done a fantastic job of researching people's preferences and concerns and trying to come up with answers to all the things that have been raised about the development. It's up to the people whether or not they accept those answers to their questions."

One of the biggest issues may prove to be Twin River's promises it can deliver Tiverton $3 million to $4 million a year in revenue, a big deal for a town of 8,000 that had an epic municipal budgeting struggle last year over just coming up with $500,000 to pay for town library bonds.

But with existing competition in Lincoln and Plainville, and potential competition from nearby Taunton and Brockton -– as well as Wynn Resorts' planned $1.7 billion casino in Everett, just north of Boston – one big unanswered question is whether the local gambling market gets oversaturated, and all its promised public revenues come into question.

With necn Chief Photographer Mike Bellwin

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