Paolino Exploring Newport Grand Purchase, Envisions "Beautiful Facility"

"If we make money, the state makes money," he said. "This is important to the state budget and it's important to the city of Newport."

Former Providence Mayor and Developer/Investor Joseph Paolino Jr. said with Newport Grand seeing a decline in revenue and jobs in recent years and with Foxwoods talking about building a $1 billion casino in Fall River., Mass., he's in negotiations to buy Newport Grand and transform it into a world class establishment to make Newport and Rhode Island proud.

"We have a concern not just as investors, but as neighbors," Paolino said in a telephone interview. "The last thing we want to see is Donald Trump or some Las Vegas group coming in here with neon signs and changing the character of the city."

Paolino, along with partners Peter de Savary and Paul Roiff, is in talks with the slot parlor's owner Diane Hurley over a possible sale.

The deal hinges on whether table games will be allowed at Newport Grand, which Paolino said is pivotal to ensure the slots parlor stands a fighting chance as casino gambling expands in Massachusetts.

"We want to protect jobs, add jobs, but only if the project is viable," Paolino said. "And table games will make it viable."

Voters in both Newport and the state as a whole would have to approve a referendum to enable whoever owns Newport Grand to operate table games. A measure in 2012 was rejected and it remains unclear if sentiments have changed since the expansion of gambling in Massachusetts.

Paolino's vision is to turn the former Newport Jai Alai into a boutique facility that reflects and enhances the local character of the city — something an outside investor would not be able to execute, he said.

"Our interest is not to move it or make it into a Las Vegas style casino, but more of a boutique look," he said. "It would look a lot nicer as a Monte Carlo-style casino and not a bunch of neon signs."

One of the first things visitors to Newport see upon crossing the Claiborne Pell Bridge is Newport Grand, Paolino said. 

"I don't want people driving over the Newport Bridge and their first view of Newport is an ugly building that says 'slots' on it," he said.

Revenues from the slot parlor are down substantially in recent years, generating about $25 million in revenue for the state — a far cry from the $50 million it used to garner according to Paolino's figures. Newport receives about $1 million per year in revenue from Newport Grand.

Meanwhile jobs have been reduced. Of the former 225 workers there, just 175 are left and 35 percent of those workers have seen hours cut. 

All this comes as Foxwoods is talking about building a large facility off Route 24 in Fall River and "for anybody to drive down Route 24, past a $1 billion casino, then pay a toll on the bridge to go to the slot parlor — never going to happen," Paolino said. "I think [Newport Grand] will be out of business."

Talk of a possible deal comes at the same time lawmakers in the Rhode Island General Assembly are trying to figure out a solution on whether tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge will remain in place and how to maintain the bridges that connect Aquidneck Island to the mainland. 

Paolino wouldn't say if any particular scenario would unfavorably tip the deal towards falling apart, but he acknowledged that no matter how you get to Newport, you're going to have to pay a toll.

"I'll leave that up to the new Speaker of the House and the Senate president," Paolino said. "They both care about what's happening in the community."

Of course, no investor would be willing to sink money into Newport Grand unless they thought they could make money and Paolino, who said he doesn't even play bingo, said he's confident the plan would be viable as long as table gaming was allowed.

He noted that all three partners including himself have investments in Newport, including the von Bulow estate, The Carnegie Abbey Club and others. Among the three, they own restaurants and hotels in Boston in addition to experience owning casinos in London and Australia, to name just a few projects.

Paolino would not say how much a potential deal might be worth, citing the confidential nature of ongoing negotiations. 

He characterized the potential deal as both an investment opportunity as well as a chance to spare Rhode Island a major economic hit. 

"If we make money, the state makes money," he said. "This is important to the state budget and it's important to the city of Newport."

Concerned citizen April 11, 2014 at 04:57 PM
No thanks! Gambling is a non constructive endeavor, a zero sum game of redistribution of existing resource, minus a profit of which the lions share goes to a few. No Thanks! By the way the Citizens Concerned about Casino Gambling organization has a majority of democrats within it's ranks steadfastly opposing the expansion of gambling in Newport for years. There are alternative uses for that property that would not draw resources away from existing but enhance the many downtown attractions. To name a few that could benefit....historic attractions, cultural, sport and arts events, restaurants, music venues, pubs and activities downtown. The ways they could benefit.....better mass transit and expanded public parking, boat storage, craftsman facilities, advanced education, road and construction job training facilities to keep contracted work project profits within the community, bakeries, farmers market, weekend flea market, local mass transit train station, public event center, day care center convenient for commuting parents and visitors, a kennel, a carriage horse stable, alternative wind and solar energy fabrication installation training facility to name just a few constructive opportunities for citizens and visitors that might be worth exploring the economics of expenditures lost to non local public spending. Creative ideas need to be exhaustively analyzed for community benefit for many people more than for commercial profit for a few.
mike westman April 11, 2014 at 05:54 PM
With Paolino the Prov. fixer, DeSavery the Carnegie elitist and Roiff the Boston boutique hotelster.....all in cahoots....looks like they are going to pick off the Newport Grand cheap and try to turn it into a uber high end entity that you or I will never be able to utilize. Sounds like a quick shuffle, make some I'm OK..Your'e Ok...noise and abracadabra.....A Providence style Monte Carlo with the boys from the Hill all a tither. Not good for Newport at all and even less good for the State of RI
A.N. April 11, 2014 at 06:25 PM
Coming soon to a theater near you!! "Pimping My Way to Providence" Starring Diane Hurley and Joe Paolino. With an all-star cast featuring Paul Roiff and Peter DeSavary. Special appearances by Jimmy Burchfield as the Boxing Promoter, Frank Caprio as the Judge and Vinny Paz as the Greeter. This film has not yet been rated.


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