2015-07-30 / Opinion

Be Careful What You Wish For


The enthusiasm that greeted the removal of the long-maligned “SLOTS” sign from Newport’s skyline on July 23 seemed almost like a victory cheer from those who voted last November against adding table games to the gambling menu at Newport Grand.

In the case of Newport Grand and its now-departed, onerous sign, we say this: Be careful what you wish for.

At one time the building’s west side shouted “Hi-Li,” the ludicrous phonetic spelling of the jai alai games that preceded slot machines. Then, the most recent owners replaced Hi-Li with SLOTS. That sign, we have since learned, encouraged vulgar jokesters who liked to revise its spelling to evoke laughter, regardless of its poor taste.

Even worse, the sign was the first thing that people saw as they traveled over the Newport Pell Bridge on their way into Newport. Not “Home of Religious Freedom.” Not “City by the Sea.” Not “Cradle of American Liberty.”

But “SLOTS,” 11-feet high in capital letters, impossible to miss. That might have worked in Atlantic City, N.J., but not in Newport, R.I.

Once the sign was down, you could almost envision trucks pulling up one day to transport the complex to Tiverton—as the new owners from Twin River Management Group (TRMG) have proposed— should the town’s and the state’s voters approve a casino referendum in November, 2016.

Say what you want about Newport Grand or its ugly sign, but facts are facts. In 2014, the slots parlor poured $780,726 into the city's treasury. That’s more than three quarters of a million dollars worth of city services that Newport taxpayers did not have to dig into their own pockets for. Or, looked at another way, the money enabled city officials to avoid having to slash the commensurate amount of city services or employees.

And, before anyone starts to cheer too loudly for the entire enterprise to eventually hit the road for Tiverton, think about this: Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano says that if that town’s voters approve a casino next year, then that would require Newport officials to engage in “a lot of discussion” about how the city would handle the significant revenue loss.

Those “discussions” could hurt. Be careful what you wish for.

Meanwhile, the Twin River folks who now own the facility—and have very successfully managed their Lincoln, R.I., facility that now, thanks to voters there, offers table games—have talked about marketing upgrades and who knows what other improvements in the day-to-day operation of Newport Grand. They seem to know what they’re doing.

One suggestion: Twin River has often offered live music as well as gambling in Lincoln. Newport’s burgeoning live music scene would settle in nicely at “SLOTS.”

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