NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) — Newport Grand has officially handed off the gambling license torch Tuesday night as it closed for good to make way for a new casino.
The slot parlor, which dates back to the mid-1970s and for about three decades was known for hosting what some consider to be the world’s fastest sport – jai alai, shut down at 11 p.m., about 35 hours prior to a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Tiverton Casino Hotel.
“I would come for the jai alai games,” said Arthur Paiva, who said he came to Newport Grand the day it opened in 1976. “I said what the heck, I was here on the first day I may as well be here on the last day.”
Kim Dufor of Fall River also stopped by the casino to gamble on its last day.
“Came to see if we could have some luck, and I did,” Dufor said. “I won $442 on Planet Moon, and we had a great time so now we’re going to the Christmas Tree Shop.”
She said she was sad to see Newport Grand close, even though she lives closer to the brand new casino in Tiverton.
The new facility, which features an 85,000 square-foot casino floor and an attached 84-room hotel, is scheduled to open to the public on Saturday, Sept. 1. It will expand gambling to table games, which were not available at Newport Grand, as well as sports betting once the state gets that program up and running. A spokesperson for the state lottery said it’s currently pegged at mid-November. There are also bars and restaurants inside the casino.
The Twin River Management Group, which owns the Tiverton Casino Hotel, also plans to bring sports betting to its main casino in Lincoln.
According to Twin River’s board chairman John Taylor, the Tiverton Casino Hotel is going to employ 550 employees. All of the 160 Newport Grand employees were given the option to move over to the new facility, and 141 have taken jobs there.
“Everone’s sad,” said Kevin Jemo, who has worked as a valet attendant at Newport Grand for 14 years. “I’ll never walk through these doors again.”
He called it a “bittersweet” day, as he and his coworkers are excited to work at the brand new facility.
“I’ve worked here for a very long time it’s going to be sad to see it go,” Jemo said. “It’s a change, a change for the better though.
On Tuesday, Taylor sympathized with the longtime patrons of Newport Grand.
“We have some players there who have been going there a long time who feel disappointed in the fact that we’re not going to be there anymore,” Taylor said. “But I hope and expect that once they see what we’ve done here, they’re going to love it and they’re going to enjoy it and feel comfortable coming.”
Tuesday also marked the opening of a new rotary at the intersection of William S. Canning Boulevard and Stafford Road, which aims to mitigate traffic to the casino hotel. The traffic circle was financed by a combination of taxpayer dollars and private money from Twin River.
The Newport Grand property has been purchased by the Carpionato Group, which has not yet announced plans to develop the property. Newport Mayor Harry Winthrop said the city had to raise taxes slightly to make up for lost tax revenue from Newport Grand, but he anticipates the future development of the property and four new hotels approved for construction will help make up the revenue.