Money mattered when it came to Rhode Island’s surprise legalization of online casino this year.
Rhode Island Senate President Dominick Ruggerio told PlayUSA there soon will be a hole in the budget from federal pandemic funds. And he sees online casino revenue as a way to help fill that hole.
“The funding is drying up from the money that the feds have given us during the COVID virus and we have to supplement that income with something,” Ruggerio said. “So we’re looking at iGaming as a revenue generator.”
Ruggerio spoke with PlayUSA at the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States conference in Denver last month, where he said he was scouting for the next way Rhode Island can generate revenue by expanding gaming.
How Rhode Island online casino came together quickly
Rhode Island was the first state to address sports betting after the US Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in 2018.
Ruggerio, who supported those efforts, said he thought Rhode Island gained an advantage by being an early mover in sports betting relative to its neighboring states. And he wanted to do the same with online casino.
So when Bally’s, which operates two casino properties in Rhode Island, came to him with a plan for internet gaming, he was fully on board. He filed SB 948 and got it passed within a couple of months.
“I wanted to get it done this year because I wanted to get in there quicker than Massachusetts and others so we can continue to maintain a competitive advantage over some of the other states in the area,” Ruggerio said.
Proponents needed to work out a few obstacles. To operate under the gaming allowed in the state and not need a constitutional amendment, they changed the legislation to authorize online slots and table games conducted via live dealer on casino property. And, even though the minimum age requirement for online sports betting in Rhode Island is 18 years old, they made it 21 years old for online casino.
The State Lottery Division of the Department of Revenue will implement and control iGaming. Rhode Island online casino will launch April 1.
More states could follow Rhode Island’s lead
Rhode Island became the only state to legalize online casino in 2023. And entering the year, Rhode Island wasn’t even on the radar as expected to consider internet gaming legislation.
Rhode Island tends to face fewer complications than larger states regarding gaming efforts. Even before passing online casino, gambling was the third-largest revenue generator in Rhode Island.
But one aspect Rhode Island does share in common with all states is that it got federal funding during the pandemic that will not continue. More states looking to replace lost revenue could turn to online casino.
Ruggerio projects Rhode Island can generate $220 million from online casino tax revenue in the next five years. Rhode Island has a $14 billion annual budget.
“That might not sound like a lot of money to a lot of these bigger states,” Ruggerio said. “In Rhode Island, it’s huge.”