The prospective owners of Newport Grand say the 39-year-old slot parlor may not look like much from the outside, but it has good bones.
So if city and state voters allow table games at the former jai alai fronton in the City by the Sea, the trio of prominent developers who’ve agreed to buy the facility promise not to tear it down but instead invest $40 million in improving it.
“We would not be interested if the inside infrastructure were not very good,” said Joseph R. Paolino Jr., one of three partners who have reached an agreement to buy Newport Grand on the condition expanded gaming is allowed. “We are very committed to keeping [Newport Grand] at only this location.”
That promise to keep Newport gambling where it is, in the warehouse-like building at the foot of the Pell Bridge, and not try to move it elsewhere in the city, such as the downtown waterfront, is central to the new pitch for table games at Newport Grand.
Joined by British businessman Peter de Savary and Boston developer Paul Roiff, Paolino, the former Providence mayor and owner of numerous buildings in that city, said the group is willing to tie any new table-games license to the current location exclusively.
And Newport political observers say, if that message gets through, it could make the difference between this attempt at expanding Newport Grand and the bid killed by local voters two years ago.
“Although there are people philosophically opposed to gambling in any form, that was not the group who defeated table games two years ago,” said Newport Mayor Henry F. Winthrop. “It was defeated by the people who thought it would change hands and be moved to the waterfront. What is being proposed now would say it can only be located at the present location. I believe that makes a significant difference.”
To operate table games, such as blackjack and roulette, Newport Grand needs an endorsement by the City Council and then a bill passed by the General Assembly to seek permission in a statewide November referendum. In that referendum, a majority of both Rhode Island voters and Newport voters have to vote yes for it to become law.
In 2012, a Newport Grand campaign for table games led by current owner Diane Hurley made it on the ballot and was passed by two-thirds of state voters, only to be defeated in Newport balloting by roughly 500 votes.
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