PROVIDENCE – North Smithfield Rep. Brian Newberry branded as “blatant arrogance” what he called the unwillingness of Twin River executives to explain why the state’s share of the take from the new table games soon to be installed is limited to 18 percent.
Newberry, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, was miffed because Twin River representatives who attended a recent hearing declined to speak on a bill he sponsored that would hike the state’s share to 20 percent, even when he invited them to testify.
He extended his criticism to include the Democratic heads of the chamber.
Obviously, Twin River refuses to publicly answer questions because they believe they have a backdoor track directly to the House leadership that doesn’t require them to answer to anyone else,” Newberry said in a written statement. “Rhode Islanders should not stand for this type of inside baseball, particularly when the Democrats are eager to tax working people in order to enrich well connected Twin River executives.”
Newberry told The Times, “they cut a deal with leadership last year for 18 percent with the leadership and nobody wants to talk about it.”
Under legislation worked out last year, Newberry said, 70 percent of the proceeds from table games would go to expenses and overhead, 18 percent to the state and 12 percent to Twin River for profit.
“The question I have been asking since last year is: Why 18 percent and why 12? Why not 20 and 10, which my bill does? Why not 15 and 15? I don’t know, there might be a good reason for it, but no one will publicly answer the question or explain where the figure came from.”
Each extra percentage point, Newberry explained, equals about $600,000.
“The Democrats claim they are the party of the working man,” he said, “but what they are effectively doing is taxing working people like cab drivers in order to give Twin River’s corporate entity more profit.”
If the state took a bigger take of the table game profits, he said, there would be no need for the “nickel and dime taxes” like those levied last year on taxi rides and dog grooming. “I don’t want to hear about how Democrats care about the little guy after this,” Newberry said.
“I don’t know what he is talking about,” House Speaker Gordon Fox said Thursday. “There is no back door in my office. Back door to the leadership? I don’t know what that means.”
Fox said the legislation that specifies how the table games take would be divvied “was fully vetted last year. Because of the cost of the table games there is a different rate than there is with the (slot) machines, but there was a full debate on that.”
Twin River spokeswoman Patti Doyle said that, while Twin River lobbyists were in the room for the hearing, it is the company’s policy that only executives Craig Easton or George Papanier speak at legislative hearings and they were not invited to do so.
“We have complied with every request to either testify before a legislative committee or answer questions but no such invitation was extended to our executive team for this hearing,” Doyle said Friday. “Had we been invited, we would have certainly attended.”
She said if Newberry wants Twin River to attend a meeting, testify at a hearing or answer questions, “he just has to invite us. We’ve never turned down an invitation.”
As for a back door track to the House leadership, Doyle said, “I don’t think that question is worthy to an answer. It looks pretty political to me.
“We participated in an very fair, thorough process last year in defining and refining the tax rate structure, so I have no idea what he is talking about in terms of a back door,” Doyle said.