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The official conversion last week of Twin River in Lincoln R.I. from video slots parlor to a casino venue offering diverse gambling choices was one more reminder of how dramatically the gaming landscape is changing.
To boost revenues to the state and try to ensure the viability of Twin River, Rhode Island lawmakers approved legislation allowing the addition of black jack, roulette, craps and other table games. This will almost certainly siphon off patrons from Rhode Island and eastern Massachusetts who may have previously frequented the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort casinos in southeastern Connecticut.
New slots parlors and casinos opened in Maine and New York in 2012. And Massachusetts is proceeding slow but steady with its plans to license three casinos and one slots parlor in that state, a move that will certainly hurt Connecticut's tribal casinos, making them grow more dependent on in-state gamblers.
Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods have been on a largely downward trend for several years. They have attempted to diversify their retail and entertainment offerings to become destination resorts, but at best these strategies may minimize the damage, not turn around the fortunes of the casinos.
Expect a continued push to have Connecticut join the list of states allowing Internet gaming within their borders. State lawmakers should proceed cautiously. Such a law change would certainly boost the economic outlook of the casinos, but how many jobs would it create and what social damage could result from making access to casino-style gambling so easy?
What local business and political leaders must do is work with the Malloy administration to diversify the region's economy. This is why we continue to push for Avery Point to be a bigger part of the University of Connecticut's science and technology expansion plans. It is why the administration cannot afford to forget southeastern Connecticut when it is providing incentives to boost business expansion. And it is why close attention must be paid to our small businesses and manufacturers, to help them grow, find new markets and operate free of burdensome regulation.
Ignoring the warning sent by the opening of the expanded Twin River would be a very bad bet.