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Lincoln, R.I. - The people sitting at the blackjack tables Monday at Twin River were the first in a new pool of gamblers that the venue expects to draw into its revenue stream with the start of a full casino operation.
Twin River's owners pushed successfully in 2012 to add roulette, craps, blackjack and other table games to its thousands of video lottery terminals at a time of increasing competition in the U.S. casino industry. After a soft opening this week, the Rhode Island casino officially opens today.
Massachusetts in 2011 approved licensing of three casinos and one slots parlor as the Bay State seeks to capture some of the $1 billion its residents gamble away elsewhere.
New casinos or slots parlors opened in Maryland, Kansas, Maine, New York and Ohio in 2012 as gross gambling revenue at commercial operations rose 4.8 percent to $37.3 billion, according to the American Gaming Association.
The spread of casino gambling across the United States has hurt some traditional gambling locales. New Jersey, home of Atlantic City and its 12 casinos, hit its high point in 2005 when its casinos saw more than $5.9 billion in combined gaming revenue. Revenue has dropped steadily since then, falling to $3 billion in 2012.
Increasing competition also has hurt the two tribal-run casinos in Connecticut, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino. Neither has seen a year-over-year increase in monthly slot revenue since December 2011. It's been several years since either one has put together monthly increases in revenue.
Some of that competition comes from Rhode Island, where investors transformed Lincoln Greyhound Park into the Twin River casino. As the Lincoln gambling hall evolved, Rhode Island and Massachusetts residents alike saw less reason to travel to eastern Connecticut to gamble.
With 66 table games, Twin River is likely to attract more gamblers from Massachusetts and Rhode Island - at least until the Massachusetts venues open.
Adding table games means drawing not just more gamblers, but different types than now enter the casino off Route 146.
A 2008 study by a research team from the University of San Francisco and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas showed more women tend to play bingo while more men tend to play blackjack. In addition to the gender difference, there is an age divide, the study showed, as people age 36 to 50 were most attracted to slots while people age 21 to 35 were most likely to play blackjack.
The introduction of casino gambling in Massachusetts, perhaps starting with a slots parlor opening as early as 2014, will reshuffle attendance and revenue throughout New England.
A consultant hired by Gov. Chafee to study the regional gambling landscape said Rhode Island's gambling revenue will rise for about three years before dropping significantly - by perhaps $100 million annually - once casinos open in Massachusetts.
Convenience casinos akin to Twin River draw gamblers mostly from within a short drive of their location, according to Steven Rittvo, a Twin River consultant, up to 75 miles. That means most people drive to such casinos, gamble a few hours, maybe grab a bite to eat, and leave. Most of those people spend less than half a day at such places.
Few people west of Connecticut's capital city venture past the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos to gamble at Twin River. About half of Twin River's gamblers come from the eastern portion of Massachusetts. The number of visitors from Massachusetts increased by 154 percent from 2006 to 2012, according to the Fourth Biennial New England Gaming Behavior Survey, released Monday by the UMass-Dartmouth Center for Policy Analysis.
The addition of table games is likely to increase visits from Bay Staters as Twin River intercepts some gamblers who otherwise would travel to Connecticut's two tribal-run casinos.