By Zachary R. Mider, Providence Journal, R.I.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Mar. 5--WEST WARWICK, R.I. -- The $600-million casino proposed by the Narragansett Indian Tribe would be superlative, according to new renderings and figures from the tribe's financial backer, Harrah's Entertainment.
There would be about 3,000 slot machines, more than at Lincoln Park or Newport Grand, along with 150 table games.
The hotel, boasting 50 to 75 suites and more than 400 additional rooms, would be the biggest in the state.
The casino would tower over West Warwick's business park and have an exclusive exit off Route 95. There would be parking for 4,500 cars -- enough for everyone in Little Compton to drive there separately.
Just last month, Harrah's officials were saying the casino they envision would cost $450 million to $500 million, but recent discussions with architects have bumped the number up another $100 million, said Harrah's executive David J. Satz.
The scale would probably diminish, though, if the General Assembly were to increase the proposed state tax on the casino's revenue, Satz said. Casino supporters have introduced a bill setting the rate at 25 percent -- far lower than the state's take from Lincoln and Newport video slots.
For a casino to be built, the General Assembly would have to put it on the ballot in November, and voters would have to approve it.
The casino would have a host of other amenities, from a health club to a coffee shop, a steakhouse and an Italian restaurant, and a "diamond club" for high rollers, Satz said.
But, at least in its first years of operation, the West Warwick casino would be considerably smaller than its rivals in Connecticut, Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun.
Foxwoods has more than 6,000 slot machines and 300 table games, Satz said, more than twice what he envisions for the initial construction at West Warwick.
And the Connecticut casinos sport entertainment venues that attract big-name acts, from prizefighters to pop stars.
"That's not planned right now," Satz said of the West Warwick proposal.
"We hope to work with a lot of the local venues."
But after the casino is in business for a few years, Satz said, Harrah's will likely consider expansion, and he did not rule out an entertainment center then.
By itself, the initial proposal is enough to worry potential competitors.
Rudi Heater, vice chairman of the Rhode Island Hospitality and Tourism Association and general manager of Warwick's Crowne Plaza Hotel, said the casino's proposed 55,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space would draw customers away from the state-owned Rhode Island Convention Center, as well as his hotel.
The 500-room hotel is equally troubling, Heater said. "There has been an explosion of new building of hotel rooms in the south-of-Providence market, with more in the pipeline," he said. "Demand has not grown to meet supply."
More alarming, Heater said, is the fear that the casino might expand beyond the initial proposal, further damaging the local hospitality industry.
But Harrah's contends that the casino will increase Rhode Island's tourist appeal and increase demand for hotels and restaurants.
Despite its size, the casino's impact on surrounding neighborhoods would be minimal, Satz said. Harrah's has about 100 acres under option, enough to build the casino and set aside plenty of room for buffers, he said.
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(c) 2004, Providence Journal, R.I. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. HET,