Critics call his opposition to gambling selective. They note Almond’s acceptance of a $500,000 check from the Mashantucket Pequots, the owner of Foxwoods, for the Ryan Center at the University of Rhode Island. (The number of video slots approved for Newport Grand and Lincoln Park has also grown, to 6853, under Governor Donald L. Carcieri, up from 2478 when Almond was governor.)
Like other casino opponents, though, Almond draws a distinction between existing gambling interests and the casino proposal bankrolled by Las Vegas-based Harrah’s Entertainment. The former governor appears to be warming to the debate, making frequent speaking appearances before civic and fraternal groups, and after initially — and inexplicably — declining to do so, engaging with Thomas in public debates.
At minimum, Almond commands respect among the older suburban demographic that can be expected to vote in large numbers on November 7.
Matthew Thomas, a one-time janitor, huddles with the likes of former Las Vegas mayor Jan Jones and Harrah’s CEO Gary Loveman, a former Harvard Business School professor, in charting campaign strategy for the envisioned Harrah’s-Narragansett casino.
Jones is known to run the show, synthesizing recommendations from various sources and calling the shots, although Thomas is at every strategy meeting and is probably the second-most influential person in the decision-making process. As Harrah’s senior vice president for communications and government, Jones seems an outsized personality. Thomas calls her “the sharpest person I’ve ever met.”
A breast cancer survivor, she served as Las Vegas’ mayor from 1991-99 — a period in which she faced at least eight different ethics charges, all of which were either dropped or beaten, according to the alt-weekly Las Vegas Mercury. Although critics “found Jones a little too cozy with gaming executives,” and she acknowledged making mistakes in how she handled eminent domain in downtown development, the Mercury called her one of the highest-ranking women and “one of the most self-made women in the [gambling] industry.”
If Jones is the field marshal, Loveman is the corporate visionary behind Harrah’s overarching strategy.
A 2004 article in Fortune contrasted the CEO — who, over the last eight years, has built Harrah’s into the world’s largest gambling company — with other industry executives, nothing how he lives in the Boston suburbs and doesn’t sport bling beyond a thin gold wedding band. “But the most important difference between Loveman and his peers,” the magazine reported, “is that he believes Harrah’s can win by treating gambling like any other form of retail. That means instead of courting high rollers, Loveman is looking for frequent shoppers — the teachers, doctors, and accountants who walk through the doors to play the odds, again and again and again.”
This growth strategy has proven so successful that two private-equity firms recently offered to purchase Harrah’s outstanding stock — news that casino opponents seized upon in raising fresh questions about the casino proposal.
Other leading pro-casino strategists include David Satz, Harrah’s general counsel and vice president; Bob Duva; former West Warwick mayor Mike Levesque, who is tasked with outreach in the host community for the would-be casino; Jack Killoy, the Narragansetts’ lawyer; and media maven Clare Eckert, a former executive at WJAR-TV. Harrah’s representatives also meet regularly with such West Warwick legislators as Representative Timothy Williamson and Senator Stephen Alves, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.