Like a relative who comes to visit and never goes home, IGT (now joined by Twin River) is about to press the General Assembly for a renewed 20-year contract for gaming services. As you will recall, Gov. Gina Raimondo made a secret billion dollar deal without bid. One of her cronies who was IGT’s former chairman served with her when she headed the Democratic National Committee and he poured campaign contributions into her coffers. It seems that a sweetheart deal is poised for approval by the legislature despite numerous red flags.
Take, for example, the IGT promised “guarantee” of 1,100 jobs, a target missed at least five times during the existing contract. The language of the legislation is so broad that IGT can fulfill its “commitment” by counting employees of outsourcing or temporary employees retained by an employment agency. Usually, the latter are considered independent contractors and no funds are put into the state treasury for future unemployment or disability. In trying to mitigate the smoke and mirrors of this provision, the CEO of IGT noted that the definition was in the last contract. In other words, the company hoodwinked the solons once before so it should be allowed to fudge the commitment again.
The House of Representatives hired a consultant to examine the proposed deal. He found that that the past IGT contract resulted in a loss of $2.5 billion in lost opportunity in top line over the last 10 years, $520 million in general fund contributions, $130 million in retailer commissions and $1.7 billion in prizes. As ludicrous as it sounds, the General Assembly is poised to repeat the mistake despite all its hand-wringing about the shortage of revenue precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Alan Hassenfeld, former chairman and CEO of Hasbro, has argued input must be gathered from experts in gaming technology who can project the future of gaming. He notes that the longevity of any contract must be carefully examined given the rapidity of technology changes. “G” technology was unheard of years ago and the rapidity of technology could render gaming machines obsolete. Indeed, when Twin River was fighting with IGT for the contract it noted that Rhode Island casinos had the lowest returns on IGT slots, pegging the shortfall as $52,000 per machine less than the competition. With regional competition returning higher returns, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude that patrons won’t be ponying up to have their pockets picked in Rhode Island.
Ironically, on the same day that The Providence Journal ran the story about the reappearance of the IGT/Twin River deal, the newspaper ran the story as to how the $3 million “guarantee” of revenue to the town of Tiverton for allowing the Twin River expansion isn’t really a guarantee at all so the town will be shortchanged.
The past performances on the promises and the future of gaming given the changing technology and times scream caution. No 20-year contract should be awarded. Other gaming states have fewer terms. States also have a guaranteed minimum of revenue. Finally, the gaming service still has not gone out to bid.
The General Assembly has plenty of time to put gaming services out to bid. That is the only aspect of any contract which should be passed in this session.
Violet is an attorney and former state attorney general.