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The chairman of Twin River says the casino company is well-positioned to meet the threat of expanded gambling in Massachusetts, with the addition of table games and the acquisition of a resort casino in Mississippi.
Chairman John Taylor cites as key to the company's strategic plan the introduction last year of blackjack, roulette and other table games at the Lincoln casino and the planned purchase of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Biloxi. That deal, dubbed an "important piece of the puzzle," is expected to close in June or July.
Taylor also said Twin River is investing heavily in staff training to deliver a high-quality experience for players.
"We're getting ready for what's going to come," he said in an interview, referring to the 2011 Massachusetts gambling law, which authorized the licensing of up to three casinos, including one in the southeastern region, and a slots parlor.
According to one estimate, Massachusetts residents have been shelling out about $1.1 billion a year on gambling in Rhode Island and Connecticut, which is home to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. Rhode Island fully expects its neighbor to recapture some of that spending: State gambling revenue here is anticipated to drop by $422 million over five years, beginning in fiscal year 2016, because of expanded gambling across the border.
Gambling, including the lottery, is the third-largest revenue stream in Rhode Island's budget.
The casino competition could come relatively close to Lincoln-based Twin River. Foxwoods last month announced plans to build a $750 million resort casino in Fall River, Mass. In addition to a casino of some 140,000 square feet, the facility would include 20 restaurants, a hotel, a convention center, a spa and an entertainment center for concerts and other events.
The Massachusetts casino law gave preference to a federally recognized Indian tribe in the southeast region, and the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe signed a compact with Gov. Deval Patrick. But the state gambling commission later approved opening up the region to commercial applicants given legal uncertainties about the tribe's plan for a facility in Taunton.
Asked about the impact a Fall River casino would have on Twin River, Foxwoods CEO and President Scott Butera said the two facilities would be very different, with his emphasizing luxury. "This is not a gambling hall - this is a destination resort," he said.
Taylor called Twin River a "convenience" casino that's easy for players to get to.
"We're going to focus on delivering a great customer experience for people who come," he said. "We think we're going to be able to deliver a more intimate player experience than a destination casino."
The addition of table games - 14 more were added in December to the original 66 - has attracted new players, according to Taylor. They are younger and there are more men, some of whom bring others who end up feeding the slots. They also eat and drink: Food and beverage sales are up 30 percent over the last eight months, according to Taylor.
"It's really done a lot for the business," he said.
Meanwhile, Twin River is pushing ahead with plans to purchase the Biloxi resort casino. The casino property has more than 1,300 slot machines and 50 table games, and the 12-story hotel has 325 rooms with a spa, fitness center and pool.