Rhode Island Town Sees Casino Money Again

The casino well ran dry for Tiverton, Rhode Island after the Twin River Tiverton Casino Hotel (l.) was closed by the pandemic. The casino has reopened, and a trickle of payments has resumed.

After several months when it was not getting any money from its Twin River Tiverton Casino Hotel, the city of Tiverton is now getting paid again.

Because the city had relied on casino money and put it into the general fund, it found itself in a sticky situation earlier this spring when the casino closed due to Covid-19 and suddenly the money wasn’t flowing anymore. The casino closed in mid-March and didn’t reopen again for more than three months.

The city council went into panic mode to make drastic cuts to almost all programs to deal with not receiving $1.8 million of the $3.1 million it normally gets annually. Although the town had voted to host the casino under the impression that the state would make up any deficits to casino payments caused by declining profits, it later learned that didn’t apply when the casino was forced to shut down.

However that will never happen again. The council recently voted 5-2 that gaming funds will go into a reserve capital account and won’t be available to be spent until the following year.

Before the council took that vote Council President Patricia Hilton commented, “You have to learn from your mistakes.”

Councilmember Nancy Driggs, who voted against the ordinance, declared, “This ordinance is not ready for prime time,” because she wanted the council to take more time to write it.

School Committee Chairman Jerome Larkin supported the ordinance as “an opportunity for you guys to be fiscally responsible for the town” and compared putting gaming revenue into the operating budget as “counting your chickens before they hatch.”

Each year the town’s voters approve of the budget in a Financial Town Referendum, usually held in September.

Although the casino money is flowing again, it is not nearly as much as the town was being paid this time last year. Last year the casino was open 24/7 but now it is open 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. and fewer patrons are allowed to be inside.

In a normal year the town would receive between $4,000-$6,000 per week, but the payment sent to Tiverton on July 30 was $3,010.

In 2018 voters defeated by 13 votes a charter amendment that would have put all casino revenue toward capital, debt service and infrastructure, something that was recommended at the time by the town administrator.

Meanwhile, Twin River Worldwide Holdings, which although based in Rhode Island has become a national gaming presence over the last two years, reported that July’s results were “strong.”

CEO George Papanier reported August 11 that the company reopened all nine of its properties in five states by June 17. It also got its first profit results from its nearly acquired properties in Mississippi and Kansas City, Missouri that it purchased from Eldorado Resorts for $230 million.

Both properties generated “strong positive cash flow” and were “a great fit for our portfolio,” said the CEO.

Despite the “strong” description, TRWH ended Q2 with $28.9 million in revenue, a 79.8 percent decline over the Q1 numbers. This resulted in a net loss of $23.5 million and loss of $10.7 million in cash flow for the same period.

Papanier concentrated on the positives, singling out the Hard Rock Biloxi in Mississippi and Dover Downs in Delaware for strong cash flow and high market demand.

Twin River’s two Rhode Island properties slowly reopened including an invitation only period with just a few hundred guests allowed at a time. But since June 20, with higher capacity, revenue is expected to be 240 percent higher than June. Both casinos are reporting 60 percent of normal revenue.

Meanwhile, Dover Downs Hotel & Casino, Delaware’s only gaming facility operated by a public company, Twin River, reported a net loss of $2.36 million for the second quarter of 2020, with the Covid-19 shutdown resulting in gaming revenues plunging by some 70 percent.

Delaware’s three racinos were closed from March 16 to June 1 due to the pandemic, reopening with safety restrictions on June 1.

Dover Downs revenues through the first half of the year were almost identical to net income through the same period in 2019, but the casino’s profits are down $3.48 million. Dover Downs went from a gain of $1.33 million last year to a loss of $2.15 million halfway through 2020.

Gaming revenues plummeted from $21 million in the second quarter of 2019 to $6.08 million. However, total revenues for slots and table games for 2020 saw a slight increase through six months compared to 2019—$23.92 million versus $22.48 million.