PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A top executive at Twin River Worldwide Holdings says Gov. Gina Raimondo’s chief of staff threatened regulatory retaliation against his company if it went forward with its opposition to the administration’s IGT contract extension.
Speculation about who made the threat has swirled for more than a week, ever since the Raimondo administration released correspondence between Lottery officials and Twin River over a dispute involving its debt load. In one of the letters, Twin River’s CEO alleged a member of his staff was threatened by a senior aide to the governor.
During a hearing last Thursday, Senate Finance Committee members pressed Twin River’s Rhode Island president, Marc Crisafulli, to disclose who issued the alleged threat. He declined at the time, but on Wednesday released a letter revealing it was Brett Smiley, Raimondo’s chief of staff since 2016 and a likely candidate for Providence mayor in 2022.
Smiley rejected the allegation on Wednesday. “I spoke with Mr. Crisafulli several times over many weeks and never once made a threat,” he said in a statement. “That is not how I conduct myself.”
According to Crisafulli, Smiley called him on his cell phone June 27 to explain the IGT legislation, which Twin River had already privately criticized out of frustration with IGT’s near-total control of slot machines at its casinos.
Smiley “asked me not to go scorched earth and oppose the deal,” Crisafulli wrote.
Smiley “then stated that the broader relationship between Twin River and the State is important, they are our regulator, they know we need their help because of the leverage ratio to grow our business, and they want to be helpful, but if we oppose the IGT deal they will not be cooperative with us,” Crisafulli wrote.
Raimondo’s chief of staff, however, recalls the series of events differently.
“The day the legislation was introduced, I gave him a courtesy call to let him know that the General Assembly was moving forward, but that the proposal did not include Twin River getting VLTs,” Smiley said.
Crisafulli “was not happy with that news and it was a tense call,” Smiley continued. “I also told him the state’s broader relationship with Twin River is important and I hope we’ll find other ways to help them grow their business. It’s unfortunate that they would make this accusation months later at the conclusion of the public hearings.”
Last week the state did come down on Twin River over its leverage ratio, which is a maximum limit on how much the company can borrow based on its regulatory agreements with the state. Twin River was forced to pay a penalty and make other concessions.
Crisafulli went on to say Smiley telephoned him three times in total June 27, including “an angry call” in which Smiley was “expressing disappointment that we openly opposed the deal.” Crisafulli wrote that he decided to go public with Smiley’s name because administration officials were not being truthful about what happened.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday afternoon, Raimondo acknowledged Smiley was in communication with Twin River at the time but was adamant that he did not threaten the company. She said she had spoken to Smiley multiple times on Wednesday.
Raimondo called the letter “a distraction” and “a stunt” by Twin River in the company’s continuing efforts to raise public doubts about the IGT deal.
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio expressed exasperation at the latest drama. “We don’t know what was said between the administration and Twin River,” he said in a statement. “What we do know is that both Twin River and IGT are valuable partners for our state, and will continue to be well into the future no matter what happens with the pending legislation.”
Ruggerio added, “We need to stop the finger-pointing and work together to find an amicable resolution for all parties for the benefit of the people of Rhode Island.”
State Sen. Lou DiPalma, who has expressed concern about the allegations in recent days, said he was alarmed by Crisafulli’s letter.
“If it did happen it’s unconscionable and irresponsible and I think it’s a sad day for Rhode Island,” DiPalma told WPRI 12. But, he added, “At the end of the day, we only have one side of the story.”
DiPalma said the issue does not change how he’s thinking about the IGT deal itself. “The deal in the end will be what’s best for all Rhode Islanders. Period,” he said.
Republican pounced on Crisafulli’s letter. “This is a serious allegation which needs to be investigated,” said GOP Chair Sue Cineki. She urged the Ethics Commission and legislative committees to look into the allegation.
The Senate Finance Committee held its last scheduled hearing on the IGT deal Tuesday night, and legislative leaders have not indicated what they plan to do next. DiPalma and state Sen. Ryan Pearson both said on WPRI 12’s Newsmakers last Friday they do not expect a vote on the deal this year.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook
Steve Nielsen and Eli Sherman contributed to this report.