Greater City Providence

Casino urbanism

Truth be told, I’d rather we not have any casinos in New England. But I have said in the past, if Rhode Island were to legalize casinos, I would want to see one built in Providence rather than expansion in Lincoln or a new casino some place like West Warwick. People in Lincoln will already tell you they’re not too keen on Twin River’s traffic and noise, and that isn’t even a real casino (yet). I’d prefer the traffic and noise and other problems attached to a casino confined to the city, which can site a casino in a district suited to 24-hour use, and also hope that the casino has a positive effect on the city’s hotels, restaurants, and shopping. A casino outside Providence guarantees that people would leave Providence or never come to Providence to begin with.

Basically, my feelings are spelled out in this post by Lefty on A View From Battleship Cove. Lefty compares the proposal by the Wampanoags for an all-inclusive resort style casino on 300 acres of land at the edge of Fall River, on a site off Route 24; against a proposal by a private developer for a casino situated right in Downtown New Bedford which intends to funnel it’s patrons out into the downtown area.

It seems inevitable at this point that the casino debate will come back to life in Rhode Island at some point. With expansions at the Connecticut casinos and the likelihood of casinos in nearby Massachusetts, our state’s dependence on gambling as a major source of our revenue will be in danger. I’d prefer we diversify our economy and ween ourselves from the gaming teet, but the question will be asked again. So let’s discuss it now. If full scale casino(s) were legal in Rhode Island, where would you want to see one built and why?

Image: Rendering of proposed Fall River casino complex

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • One idea for locating a Providence casino might be to deck over the 95 trench between Atwells Avenue and Broadway and the block south of Broadway. This area would offer easy on and off access for cars and charter busses via 95. It would be virtually across the street from the Hilton and on the Downtown side there are two empty underutilized lots that could be developed as hotel sites, the former Gulf station and police headquarters sites. There would even be opportunities for new hotels along the service road on the Federal Hill side. The State could donate the “land” or rather the air space above the highway for free to entice a casino developer to use the site, especially since a deck over comes with some added costs for engineering and structure. The Dunk and Convention Center, as well as, theatre venues would be within walking distance that could create a destination district with a wide range of offerings for conventioneers and other visitors to the city. The Atwells Avenue restaurant strip and Downtown restaurants would also benefit. Vegas doesn’t have anything remotely as compact that offers a similar array of amenities. Another benefit would be reuniting Downtown and Federal Hill by covering over the physical gash that’s divided the two districts for the last 45 years.

  • That’s pretty much where I’ve always placed a casino in the SimCity version of Providence that lives in my brain (if we had to have a casino in RI). Either over the highway or at the Old Public Safety lot itself (which would be kind of ironic or appropriate or something).

    I wonder what kind of footprint an urban casino needs.

  • Usually it’s a pretty big footprint if Connecticut or Vegas are typical. Half or all of the curved part of the trench between Broadway and Washington might actually be a better size for a casino program. There’s also the parking to consider.

    Another plus, besides the city amenities, is that a casino downtown would have the added advantage of nearby Amtrak service and a fast direct rail link to an airport that a Fall River and the Connecticut casinos wouldn’t have.

  • Here’s the Montreal Casino laid overtop of the area:

    The Montreal Casino is not a Vegas or a Connecticut style casino, but it has all the bells and whistles. It looks like a casino could be built between Atwells and Broadway, maybe with a bridge over the Service Road connecting it to the Circular Gas Station parcel. It would certainly fit between Broadway and Washington and the Atwells and Gas Station parcels could be reserved for parking facilities and hotels.

    A streetcar running on Broadway, through city to the train station would help this kind of amenity.

    It would be steps from the Convention Center and Dunk.

    The casino in Halifax, Nova Scotia looks to be about the size of the Dunk.

    Like I said, I don’t want a casino, but if one were built in the state, I think it should be built in Providence.

  • I like that idea of using the highway as the location. It wouldn’t require tearing down buildings or anything and it wouldn’t require going down to Allens Ave (after all, if there were a casino down there, that’s fewer people downtown).

    My concern would be the adjacent residential neighborhood on Federal Hill. I guess if you put parking on the downtown side, it wouldn’t be horrible. You’d have to make sure that there was a good walkway from the Federal Hill area to downtown without walking through the casino. It’d probably have to have some security guards as I imagine having the casino folks there all the time would make it a pretty undesirable walk. A parking garage could be built on the gas station parcel and a new hotel could probably be built on the public safety building parcel. As long as both the hotel and the garage had ground floor retail (or the hotel a restaurant), the design would be perfect. You could probably even make a skywalk over Broadway from the hotel to the parking garage.

    Oh, and it’s already in the works to have voters vote on whether or not we should expand gambling at Twin River. While I am not necessarily opposed to the idea, since it’s already there, I would prefer to have a casino here in Providence. I am opposed to building a casino in West Warwick or any of the suburbs, but I am not really opposed or in favor of expanding the “casinos” in Lincoln or Newport.

  • Even if we disregard all the other legitimate arguments against a casino in general and a casino in Providence in specific, I’d still be opposed because of the likelihood of poaching. Unless I saw considerable evidence that people would be likely to go to the casino and then spend money somewhere else during the same outing, I think numerous local restaurants, shops, and cultural centers would suffer.

    The other problem is a matter of scale. Providence is tiny enough that I think a casino would loom disproportionately large, causing outsiders to see us less as a historic city, a creative city, an intellectual city, a livable city (pick any or all of the above) and more as just another place where you can gamble. I lived in Montreal for three years, and it was big enough that when people thought of the city, they wouldn’t necessarily think of the casino. I don’t think Providence would be as fortunate.

  • Most (if not all) casino operations do all they can to make sure you never leave the facility. All the shops and concert venues are built to be “loss leaders”. They don’t really have to make money…just keep you from leaving when you get tired of gambling. They comp for a reason!

    All you have to do is look at the Providence Place Mall. How many people leave the highway park in the garage, shop in the stores, eat in the food court, and take in a movie without ever taking in the rest of the City?

    A casino, like the mall will be a destination. The revenue it generates for the City will definitely help. But do not expect spillover. Instead, expect a brew pub to keep you from going down to Trinity, a steak house to keep you away from Flemmings or Capital Grill, an “italian place” to keep your from going to the hill and shops to keep you from going to the mall.

    The concept of dropping it down on top of 95 is appropo. Its a space ship, a self contained entity that can be dropped anyplace. Having the elderly hire rise right next store is just a bonus.

  • If a casino were to be built in Providence, I would make sure that it’s only approved to have the casinos and some bars on the gaming floors. If they want to do some kind of cabaret theatre and have a single buffet-style food court, I can probably accept that as well. Otherwise, I wouldn’t allow it to have restaurants, bars, or shops. I would make sure the land is zoned very specifically when/if it happens. It would prevent further expansion and would prevent it from poaching from the city. This way if people want to gamble and don’t give a crap what else they do, they can stay in the casino. If they want to make a trip out of it, the destination is Providence, not the casino. The casino just adds to what is already available in Providence.

    It’s too bad that prostitution is no longer legal, I could see having a “spa” there as well. But if they want to include a strip joint, go for it.

  • Restrictions on ancilary uses within a gaming facility will just ensure that a casino will end up in another community. I wouldn’t be surprised if the state legislation enacted to allow casinos prevents restrictions like those. The gaming lobby is very good at getting their way.

    The competition between cities and towns for the tax revenue and jobs a casino will bring almost ensures that municipalities will not place restrictions on them. Come election time, do you want to be the mayor or council person that pushed a casino one town over because you wanted to impose restrictions. Look at what West Warwick was willing to do ensure that Harrah’s built in their town. No doubt one town will be played off another by whatever company is allowed to set up shop.

    I am not against casino gambling. Its not for me, but if someone wants to entertain themselves at a craps table who am I to take the moral high road. But you are dealing with the devil (no pun intended) when it comes to gaming. I have read plenty of stories of people who say their community will be the one to have have their cake and eat it to only to have it go the casino operator’s way.

    Providence would probably do just as well with a full fledged casino at Twin River and get the Casino owner or the State to build a trolley or light rail line right down center of 146 from Kennedy Plaza or Union Station right up to the casino’s front door. Imagine: fly into Warwick, take the train into Providence, rent a room at the the Courtyard Marriott and then hop the trolley up to Twin River.

    Go green from Greene to the green (money that is)…

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