PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The gambling companies jockeying for contracts in Rhode Island helped fuel a new fundraising record at the Democratic Governors Association chaired by Gov. Gina Raimondo.
IGT and Twin River Worldwide Holdings – the state’s leading gambling companies – contributed $150,000 and $100,000 to the DGA through the first half of the year, respectively. The national organization announced Wednesday it raised a record-breaking $19 million during the same period.
“The DGA’s record-breaking fundraising haul will help us build the infrastructure to win competitive gubernatorial races in 2019 and 2020,” said DGA executive director Noam Lee in a statement.
The money came in during the same six-month period that IGT and Twin River were both vying for a long-term contract with Rhode Island, and publicly battling one another in the process.
State lawmakers are slated to consider a proposed 20-year, $1 billion contract extension with IGT that came out during the final days of the regular session in June. The deal has since become the subject of intense public scrutiny thanks to a ferocious lobbying campaign by Twin River, which unsuccessfully sought a similar deal with the state earlier in the year.
If approved, IGT would continue to provide gaming technology and equipment to Rhode Island, including slot machines at the state’s two casinos in Lincoln and Tiverton, which are operated by Twin River.
The casino operator has criticized the state for not putting the $1 billion contract through a competitive bidding process, as is typical with most state contracts. It’s since emerged that Twin River sought the same no-bid contract it is now criticizing, and was previously granted its own no-bid contract to operate the state’s casinos.
“We don’t begrudge them in any way for advocating on behalf of their company and shareholders – that’s capitalism,” IGT spokesperson Bill Fischer told WPRI 12. “What we don’t like is the deception being brought into this process.”
State Rep. Brian Newberry, R-North Smithfield, argued Thursday that the escalating battle between the two companies is taking a toll on both their reputations.
“IGT and Twin River: Neither one of you is covering yourself in glory with this public sparring over the IGT contract,” Newberry tweeted. “Regardless of the merits of the deal, everyone knows that you are both acting in your own interests (which is fine) not the taxpayers. Please remember that.”
IGT’s contributions to the DGA have now been added to the mix, after Raimondo tapped IGT lobbyist and former chairman Donald Sweitzer to serve as the organization’s treasurer. Sweitzer is a longtime powerbroker in Democratic politics.
When asked whether it was appropriate for IGT to give so much money to the DGA while simultaneously seeking such a large contract from Raimondo’s administration, a spokesperson for the governor deflected and referred the question to the DGA.
David Turner, a DGA spokesperson, said the IGT contributions are nothing new.
“IGT has given recurring donations to the DGA going back to 1997,” Turner told WPRI 12.
Indeed, IRS records show IGT on average has contributed $159,285 each year since 2013, including $175,000 last year and $160,000 in 2017.
For Twin River, the $100,000 it contributed this year marks the first time in at least the last five years the company has given money to the DGA, according to a company spokesperson.
The hoopla surrounding the deal has resulted in robust political activity in an otherwise quiet summer. General Assembly leaders had originally said they planned to return this fall to consider the proposed IGT deal, but House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello is now suggesting that may not happen.
Raimondo’s proposed extension would continue IGT’s current 20-year contract approved by state lawmakers in 2003. IGT has said the contract generates about $50 million in revenue for the company each year.
In exchange, IGT would be contractually obligated to maintain its offices in downtown Providence, and employ at least 1,100 people in Rhode Island – a 100 job increase compared to its current deal.
After the deal was proposed, Twin River launched a public campaign opposing the no-bid contract, most recently purchasing radio airtime to criticize it. The Rhode Island Republican Party, meanwhile, filed an ethics complaint, saying Raimondo’s relationship with Sweitzer in the context of the proposed deal violated state law.
IGT has pushed back. An advocacy group called Keep Jobs in Rhode Island has formed to promote the proposed deal, and both the company and the nonprofit said Thursday they plan to launch separate radio ad campaigns in the coming days.
Despite the fiery debate locally, the Rhode Island contract extension did not come up Thursday during IGT executives’ quarterly call with investors.
IGT, which is based in London and controlled by an Italian conglomerate, holds lottery and casino contracts throughout the United States. Overall, the company said it earned about $119 million in profit on $2.4 billion in revenue through the first half of the year.
Locally, Raimondo spokesperson Josh Block said the second-term governor continues to support the proposed deal with IGT.
“This is a proposal that will guarantee 1,100 jobs in Rhode Island and secure hundreds of millions in local investment, and the governor looks forward to a full and public vetting,” Block said.