PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – IGT and Twin River Worldwide Holdings have collectively paid lobbyists an estimated half million dollars this year in what some are calling the largest State House lobbying effort in the last decade.
The proof was visible Thursday at the first of several legislative hearings scheduled to discuss a proposed $1 billion, 20-year contract extension between the state and IGT. In attendance were several of the two dozen people registered to lobby on behalf of IGT and its biggest critic: Twin River.
A Target 12 analysis of actual and estimated spending reported to the secretary of state’s office revealed more than 24 people, registered to lobby on behalf of the two companies, have earned an estimated $512,500 so far this year.
The two teams of lobbyists, hired to persuade lawmakers about the competing gambling companies’ business interests, have caught the attention of government watchdog group Common Cause Rhode Island.
“The fight between IGT and Twin River over the state Lottery has been an extraordinary display of rent seeking by two major corporations,” said Common Cause executive director John Marion. “They are using all the levers of influence available to them, including hiring a remarkable number of lobbyists.”
The estimates of lobbying costs are only one piece of overall spending by the two companies, which are paying for advertisements, media consultants and public relations strategists. The gambling businesses and their leaders have also spent thousands on political contributions.
Marion’s group is currently putting together a comprehensive report about spending by the two companies.
Assuming the companies’ current and future estimates are correct, the full group – which includes both company employees and full-time outside lobbyists – could earn an additional $244,000 before the end of the year, meaning the two companies are on track to spend $756,500 lobbying this year.
“While we don’t have historical records that allow us to compare the spending to other efforts, this certainly is one of the largest lobbying efforts in the last decade,” Marion added.
While local gambling companies have always made sure to have representatives prowling the State House, the current spending frenzy is being driven by the debate over the proposed IGT deal.
Twin River, the operator of the state’s two casinos in Lincoln and Tiverton, has opposed the proposed contract extension since it was proposed in the final days of last legislative session.
IGT, a gaming technology company, is hoping state lawmakers will approve the contract, allowing it to run the state Lottery for another two decades. The deal is worth about $50 million per year to IGT.
Twin River, which is known for operating and owning casinos, has called on the state to put the gaming technology contract through a competitive bidding process. On Wednesday, the company put forward an alternative proposal in partnership with London-based Camelot Lottery Solutions.
Working to persuade lawmakers to Twin River’s point of view are at least 11 state-registered lobbyists, which is enough people to field a football team.
Twin River paid its lobbyists a combined $138,500 through the first six months of the year, according to actual spending reports, and the company estimates the amount will hit $249,000 by the end of this month.
Companies must file lobbyist compensation reports each quarter when the state legislature is out of session, and third-quarter reports are due next month. In the meantime, companies file good-faith estimates of what they plan to spend on lobbyists.
Assuming Twin River’s estimates are correct, and it keeps the same number of lobbyists on its payroll for the rest of the year, the company is slated to spend $364,500 on lobbying this year.
A Twin River spokesperson did not immediate respond to a request for comment.
IGT, meanwhile, has its own team of at least 12 lobbyists registered with the state — enough people to fill a jury box.
The gaming technology company, then known as GTECH, struck a deal with former Republican Gov. Donald Carceri in 2003 to run the state Lottery for 20 years. The company also provides most of the slot machines for the two state-owned casinos, which are operated by Twin River.
Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo in June announced a proposed 20-year extension of that deal, which was subsequently introduced as legislation by fellow Democrats House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio. Approving the deal legislatively would allow IGT to secure the contract without going through a competitive bidding process.
Through the first six months of the year IGT paid its team of lobbyists $131,000, according to actual spending reports. Estimates show the amount could increase to $263,500 by the end of the month.
Assuming the company’s estimates for the rest of the year are accurate, IGT’s 2019 tab for lobbying could total nearly $400,000.
An IGT spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.