Casino games begin at Twin River

Rhode Island's bet on expanded gambling starts Wednesday as Twin River Casino begins offering blackjack, roulette and craps in a move to get a head start on neighboring Massachusetts.

The Lincoln casino plans to host a ribbon cutting before the action starts at 65 new tables offering Las Vegas-style games. Twin River won voter approval last fall to expand from a slot parlor into a full-fledged casino.

Supporters argued the new games were needed to protect the state's share of gambling revenue from competition from Massachusetts, where casinos have been authorized but not yet built.

Following last fall's referendum, Twin River renovated space for the new tables, hired and trained 400 new employees and passed a long list of state inspections required before the first hand could be dealt. Two "soft-opening" trial runs were held Friday and Monday. Several hundred players participated.

"We want to deliver a great customer-player experience that people want to come back to," Twin River chairman John Taylor said Tuesday, while giving The Associated Press a tour of the new casino space. "That's what's going to differentiate us. We have the location, we have the product."

The space set aside for table games blends easily into the sprawling gambling facility. Most of Twin River will remain devoted to slot machines. While a few hundred were moved out to make way for blackjack and craps tables, the facility still has more than 4,500.

If the state's gamble works, it will be because it retains people like Robert Opalenik, who came to Twin River with his brother Mike on Tuesday. The Massachusetts man said he visits Twin River occasionally to try his hand with the slots and said he'll return to try out the table games - even after casinos open up in Massachusetts.

"It'll be a good thing," he said. "I think it makes sense. It's less than an hour away."

The Newport Grand slot parlor had also sought permission for table games, and while voters statewide supported the idea in last fall's election, local voters balked. Casino referendums must pass statewide and in a facility's host community to be approved.

Supporters of the expansion had argued that a failure to offer casino games to compete with new casinos in Massachusetts could undermine the state's financial stability.

Twin River and Newport Grand contribute about $300 million a year to state coffers.