2015-03-05 / Front Page

Twin River Plans to Buy the Grand

By Tom Walsh

Just when it seemed as though Newport Grand had slipped out of the headlines, Wednesday, March 4, dawned with a startling development— the establishment would be bought by the same company that operates the Twin River Casino in Lincoln, R.I.

The first stirrings of the deal occurred at a Christmas party last December in Providence.

“You know how it is at Christmas,” Joseph R. Paolino Jr. said. “Everybody bumps into each other.” Paolino, the former Providence mayor-turned commercial real estate developer, was still smarting from his failed effort a month earlier to convince Newport voters to approve table games at Newport Grand when he “bumped into” John E. Taylor Jr., chairman of the board of directors of Twin River Worldwide Holdings, parent company of Twin River Management Group and Twin River Casino.

“We approached each other hesitantly,” Paolino recalled. “Then he asked me how I was doing in Newport. I told him I was looking for a partner and that maybe we should talk.”

There was a handful of phone conversations. Businessman Peter de Savary had informed Paolino he was dropping out of any further activity around Newport Grand. How- ever Paul G. Roiff would soldier on with Paolino. Taylor, Roiff and Paolino all planned to spend the week after Christmas at their Florida homes.

The three men gathered for lunch the day before New Year’s Eve at a hotel restaurant in Palm Beach. And it was there, Paolino said, that things began to come together.

The deal involving Paolino’s Newport Entertainment and Leisure, LLC would transfer its ownership of a purchase and sales agreement for Newport Grand to the Twin River Group for an undisclosed price. The deal, expected to close no later than June 30, 2015, requires regulatory approval by the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation and the Division of Lotteries, as well as “other closing conditions,” according to a Twin River press release.

“As a company headquartered in Rhode Island, we understand how important the future of Newport Grand is to the state, and when the acquisition opportunity presented itself, we believed that we might be best qualified to preserve and possibly enhance that revenue and protect valuable jobs,” Taylor said.

That would be welcome news to revenue collectors for the state. According to a University of Rhode Island study last year, Newport Grand revenues fell from $79.4 million in 2005 to $44.6 million in 2014. In the same time, the Newport Grand workforce fell off by 25 percent, to 175. Still, Paolino said, the facility continues to generates $26 million in revenue for the state.

“We have plans to stabilize” Newport Grand’s revenue, Taylor told Newport This Week. “Obviously we would not buy the business if we were not confident that we could make it work.”

Taylor told Newport This Week that, “The thing that drove us into this was the efficiency and operations benefits of bringing Twin River and Newport Grand together. Can we be successful? We believe yes, we can.”

Diane Hurley, current Newport Grand owner, said that after nearly four decades at the slots parlor’s helm, she has “mixed emotions” now that the sale of the slots parlor seems imminent.

“I am pleased that the facility will be owned by a company with a strong track record of success in this industry and an equally strong record of doing good work in Rhode Island,” Hurley said. “In the face of increased competition coming shortly from [soon-to-open casinos in] nearby Massachusetts, we must do all we possibly can to preserve important state revenue and these jobs.”

Both Paolino and Taylor said there will be no new push to gain voter approval for table games without an apparent change of heart within the community.

“We are well aware of the fact that the Newport community is not in favor of any expansion of gaming at Newport Grand and may never be,” Taylor said. “While we believe that would aid considerably in the property’s long-term ability to compete in an increasingly challenging gaming marketplace, we will respect the wishes of the community. We are not looking to force that on them.”

Newport Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano said her primary concern was to protect or even to grow the Newport Grand workforce. “The prospective owners seem to have the wherewithal to do that,” she said.

She said one other thing pleased her about the deal: “I’m told they plan to remove the ‘SLOTS’ sign from the front of the building. That would be one of my fondest wishes.”

Taylor confirmed the sign will come down once the sale is complete.

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