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attack validity of casino study

Lincoln Park and Newport Grand accuse a Senate pollster of glossing over some of his own findings to make the proposed West Warwick casino appear more attractive.

How often would you visit a "Foxwoods-style" casino in Rhode

-- For Rhode Island to hit the casino jackpot, almost twice as many Rhode Islanders would have to go to the proposed West Warwick casino as go to Foxwoods -- and more than three times the number who now take their gambling dollars to Mohegan Sun.

This finding came to light yesterday when the author of a $34,700 University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth study, commissioned by the Senate Democratic leadership, made public a key piece of his study for the first time: the detailed results of a telephone poll.

Close to 57 percent of the 1,188 Rhode Islanders surveyed said they would visit a new "Foxwoods-style casino" in Rhode Island 8.25 times each on average, compared to the 30.9 percent who said they had visited Foxwoods and the 17.6 percent who said they had visited Mohegan Sun in the last year, anywhere between three and five times each.

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To succeed, the new West Warwick casino would also make Rhode Island gamblers out of scores of Massachusetts residents -- 30 percent of the 1,250 Bay Staters surveyed -- who said they never or only occasionally go to either of the two Connecticut casinos. (Only 13 percent acknowledged visiting Mohegan Sun; 19 percent, Foxwoods.)

The newly released survey shed new light on the extent to which Rhode Islanders and their Bay State neighbors might step up their gambling if they had the option of visiting the West Warwick casino the Narragansett Indians are promoting, with backing from Harrah's Entertainment.

It also provided new ammunition for the owners of Lincoln Park and Newport Grand to attack the validity of the study and accuse Clyde W. Barrow, the director of the UMass-Dartmouth Center for Policy Analysis, of significantly playing down potential losses of between 34 percent and 37.5 percent in their own video-slot business.

After reviewing the responses to the telephone survey on which he based most of his findings, they accused him of glossing over some of his own findings to make the proposed West Warwick casino appear more attractive.

They also questioned why he asked both Lincoln Park and Newport Grand for permission to interview their patrons, as he himself had suggested was necessary in testimony to a Rhode Island gambling study commission

From the annals of this House study commission, Lincoln Park's own public-relations team found a transcript of Barrow's October 2002 testimony in which he said, in part: "I think it would really require some type of market survey of the people who currently patronize Lincoln Park and Newport Grand Jai Alai to get a sense of what their

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Newport Grand lawyer-lobbyist Christopher Boyle provided copies yesterday of e-mails he said he exchanged this year with baccarat games online , in which they agreed to meet at 10:30 a.m. on March 30 to discuss what Barrow described as a "patron intercept survey."

But when the day came, Boyle said, Barrow's secretary called to say he had a "fuel pump that broke. We did not hear back from him."

Barrow did not dispute the account when asked about it yesterday.

But he said he decided to do the telephone surveys instead because the two facilities seemed to have so much "concern and consternation" about the on-site patron interviews; "they wanted to review the questions, which I didn't think was baccarat ," and "we were under some rather

"That was a methodological decision on my part," he said in a telephone interview yesterday. Doing the interviews by telephone, he said, he got "a better cross-section and a more accurate representation" than he

(To this argument, Lincoln Park spokesman Michael Trainor said: "That would be like using a statewide telephone poll to try to predict the outcome of a Woonsocket mayoral race. It doesn't make sense.")

As for the potential losses to Lincoln Park and Newport Grand, Barrow said officials from both facilities had misread his findings.

In the highlights of the report he gave the Senate last week, Barrow wrote: "The maximum probable impact on Lincoln and Newport revenues would be 9.8 percent in the peak year of impact [fiscal year 2008]."

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But the way they read his survey numbers: The Rhode Islanders who visit Lincoln Park now -- 121 of the 1,188 polled -- do so 18.45 times on average each year, would make 37.5 percent fewer visits if they had the choice of visiting a "Foxwoods-style casino" in their home state.

If that were true, annual track revenue from each one of those gamblers would drop from an estimated $2,587 to $1,615.

Similarly, they deduced that the 72 out of 1,188 Rhode Islanders polled who said they had visited baccarat Grand in the last year would pay 34 percent fewer visits and revenue would take a commensurate dive.

But Barrow said his findings do not suggest that all of their patrons will dessert them for the new casino, at least some of the time.

A majority of those who identified themselves as Lincoln Park patrons, 67.6 percent, and 74.2 percent of those who identified themselves as Newport Grand patrons, told his survey-takers they would "be more likely

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But Barrow said "not everyone says they will substitute trips," and he remains convinced the two facilities can "survive and thrive," even with 2 a.m. closing times in competition with a 24-hour, 365 day-a-year casino in West Warwick with a baccarat tables, roulette, craps and the

The Rhode Island Hospitality Association has commissioned a college professor at Hampshire College in Massachusetts, at a cost of $1,200 a day, plus expenses, to critique the Senate-commissioned study: Robert Goodman, author of The Luck Business, and former director of a 1999 U.S.

Yesterday, Goodman was just beginning his reading of the Barrow report, which he described as a "promotional study" reflecting all the positives

"I mean that is the reason you do an impact study," said Goodman. "I mean, imagine if you were . . . trying to figure out if you should go into [a] business, and someone gave you a study and said look at the revenues you are going to get from this business, without giving you the

Barrow's response: "I do not give credibility to anything that comes

But Newport Grand lobbyist Boyle said he was so concerned about Barrow's pro-casino bias, after reading some of his work, that he mentioned his concerns to one of the sponsors of this year's casino legislation: Senate Finance Chairman Stephen D. Alves, D-West Warwick. Alves yesterday said he had no recollection of the conversation.