1. However you feel about casino gambling, you have to tip your cap to Twin River Chairman John Taylor for making a very crafty strategic maneuver this week. His surprise announcement that Twin River wants to relocate Newport Grand to Tiverton instantly transformed not only the prospects for the state’s No. 2 casino but the financial calculus for would-be casino operators in Southeastern Massachusetts. It’s an all-too-rare example of Rhode Island taking a proactive rather than reactive approach to a financial challenge. There’s little reason to think Taylor is bluffing, either. A Tiverton casino would be a stronger competitor in the marketplace than an aging Newport Grand – a new facility with table games, at the crossroads of the South Coast. Twin River Management Group could do joint promotions for Lincoln and Tiverton, too, highlighting the different options at each facility. Will Tiverton go for it? That remains to be seen, but Twin River’s success in managing its relationship with Lincoln suggests the proposal certainly has a serious shot.
2. Even if Twin River Tiverton (Twin Riverton? Tivertwin River?) never gets built, John Taylor and his team already accomplished something significant with the announcement: they’ve added even more uncertainty to the already dicey Southeastern Massachusetts casino calculus. It could be a year and a half before anyone knows whether the Tiverton facility will be built, with the final step being a November 2016 ballot referendum. It’s already been difficult for casino operators in that region to put together enough capital to get a deal done; this will only make it harder. Massachusetts requires the winner of the southeastern region license to spend a minimum of $500 million on its facility; Twin River faces no such requirement. Lenders are going to be understandably nervous about backing that kind of investment if they’re actually facing the prospect of competition against not only Twin River Lincoln and Plainridge Park Casino but a new Twin River Tiverton (not to mention the many facilities located further away). And then there’s the looming prospect of a tribal casino in Taunton, which Taylor recently told me he thinks will inevitably get built down the road. Without a licensed Southeastern Massachusetts casino, the Taunton casino would pay a 17% tax rate; with one, Taunton would pay nothing, giving it a major competitive advantage. So quashing the Southeastern Massachusetts license could protect Rhode Island from an untaxed casino right across the border. All in all, an impressive bit of jujitsu by Twin River.
3. One last thought on the Twin River announcement: if the Tiverton casino gets built, Newport Grand would shut down. That would free up prime real estate right at the gateway into Newport on Route 138, presenting the City by the Sea with a unique opportunity to reimagine that section of town. Twin River has already promised Senate President Paiva Weed to work closely with state and local officials there to come up with a plan for the site; it would be interesting to see what ideas are brought forward.
4. Gawker sheds light on how top Brown University officials helped a CEO’s daughter gain admission.
5. The New York Times takes a tough look at Jonathan Nelson and Providence Equity Partners.
6. With Larry Lucchino and Jim Skeffington set to discuss their stadium proposal at a closed-door 195 Commission meeting Monday, it’s clear their request for $120 million, free land and no taxes is meeting with quite a bit of resistance. In some ways, they’ve done Governor Raimondo a political favor – the eye-popping ask will give her some political cover if she balks and has to let the team leave town. The question is, at what price would the governor – and lawmakers – be willing to do a deal? So far they’re avoiding specifics. Meanwhile, after last week’s quick thumbs-down from a number of those on the political right, this week saw critics on the left join the critical chorus. Sam Bell’s Rhode Island Progressive Democrats called the proposal “obscene” (and knocked “the conservative House leadership machine,” too), while Occupy Providence called it “economically senseless.” Providence Rep. Aaron Regenburg took a more nuanced position in a message to his East Side constituents: “Let’s be open to sincerely working for a better deal – one with a fraction of the public investment, a strong community benefits agreement, and no special treatment regarding the tax stabilization agreement. At the same time … let’s get creative in exploring ideas that could improve the public’s negotiating position. If the ownership group won’t negotiate in good faith, then good riddance.”
7. This Monday’s visit to Providence by Hillary Clinton’s top lieutenants marks a relatively rare Rhode Island cameo in presidential politics (Lincoln Chafee excepted). Getting campaign manager Robby Mook himself to show up is a nice power play by old Clinton allies Joe Paolino and Mark Weiner. Not that Rhode Island is getting special treatment: the Clinton team is putting paid staffers in all 50 states as a show of force. One of the reasons for Clinton’s people to organize in a state like Rhode Island, which she’ll probably win easily: it’s a good place to gather volunteers who’ll make bus trips to New Hampshire for door-knocking.
8. But enough about Hillary. What about Rhode Island Republicans, who have their own primary to worry about? The Ocean State will never be mistaken for Utah, but there are still plenty of GOP partisans in the state: turnout in the party’s last three contested presidential primaries was 36,000 in 2000 (John McCain won); 27,000 in 2008 (McCain won again); and 15,000 in 2012 (Mitt Romney won). No, those aren’t huge numbers – upwards of 250,000 votes were cast in the New Hampshire GOP primary in each of those years – but they’re not meaningless, either. As The Upshot’s Nate Cohn recently pointed out, four in 10 Republican primary voters live in a group of 18 deep-blue states that includes Rhode Island. “The blue-state Republicans make it far harder for a very conservative candidate to win the party’s nomination than the party’s reputation suggests,” Cohn argues. And delegates won in a blue-state primary count just as much as delegates won in a red-state contest. One analysis estimates there will be 19 GOP delegates up for grabs in Rhode Island’s April 26 primary next year – only four fewer than in New Hampshire’s closely-watched contest. (Don’t be surprised to see a few Republican hopefuls troop through Newport or East Greenwich to raise campaign cash, either.)
9. Yahoo’s Matt Bai on why Linc Chafee’s presidential bid “might matter more than you think.” Meantime, The New York Times’ Ross Douthat took a shot at Chafee in a Clinton critique. And The Daily Beast’s Mike Tomasky took a shot at the Ocean State while defending Hillary: “Clinton has been in our faces for 20-plus years. Where is any evidence of real corruption? I don’t mean stuff you may not have liked or that kinda looked funny. I mean actual, Rhode-Island-style, steal-a-hot-stove corruption.” Is that a cousin of Rhode Island-style calamari?
10. “Watch out, CVS,” says health reporter Matthew Harper: a startup called PillPack wants to change how Americans fill their prescriptions.
11. Governor Raimondo’s Medicaid working group keeps chugging along, with this week seeing the release of $85.5 million in possible state cuts for next year (some of which are creative ways to get the federal government to pick up more of the tab). A few things to note. First, the Hospital Association of Rhode Island agreed to accept rate cuts if they have the opportunity to earn the money back through incentive payments for quality the following year – but the association no longer represents Lifespan, the biggest hospital group in the state. Will an isolated Lifespan wage a fight against the idea? Then there are the nursing homes, who’ve been asked to accept a similar deal – so far they’re not on board, and they’ve got a lobbyist team led by Joe Walsh to push back on Smith Hill. Will legislators use some of the unexpected tax revenue coming in to protect Rhode Island’s (mostly for-profit) nursing homes?
12. With Mayor Jorge Elorza set to deliver his first budget address next week, Dan McGowan breaks down the challenges facing the city of Providence.
14. Sharon Credit Union’s new CEO wants to expand its banking footprint into Rhode Island.
15. A. Alfred Taubman, the shopping mall magnate (and ex-con) who endowed Brown University’s public-policy center of the same name, has died at the age of 91.
17. Congratulations to Tim White and our investigative team on winning a 2015 Edward R. Murrow Award!
18. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Twin River Chairman John Taylor and North Kingstown Rep. Doreen Costa. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – R.I. Department of Labor and Training Director Scott Jensen, plus Eat Drink RI founder David Dadekian. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 6 p.m. on myRITV (or Sunday at 6 a.m. on Fox). You can catch both shows back-to-back on your radio, too, Sunday nights at 6 on WPRO-AM 630 and WEAN-FM 99.7. See you back here next Saturday morning.Ted Nesi ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi