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Rhode Island Legislature Sends Online Casino Bill To Governor

Just when it looked like no state would legalize online casino in 2023, little old Rhode Island comes out of nowhere.

Rhode Island Sends Online Casino Bill to Governor
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Matthew Kredell Avatar
6 mins read

Just when it looked like no state would legalize online casino in 2023, little old Rhode Island comes out of nowhere.

The Rhode Island House of Representatives passed legislation 57-11 Thursday to authorize online casino.

The Senate passed an identical bill by a 30-4 vote last week. After passing HB 6348, the House also passed the Senate duplicate, SB 948.

Despite several hostile amendments and back-and-forth discussion on the House floor, the bill passed unamended. Therefore it does not need to go back to the Senate for concurrence.

Now the legislation heads to the desk of Gov. Daniel McKee.

Joining a small group of online casino states

Pending the governor’s signature, Rhode Island will become the seventh state with full online casino in the US.

The other states with online casino are New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, West Virginia, Connecticut and Delaware.

New York, Indiana, Illinois, Maryland, Iowa and New Hampshire considered online casino legislation this year. But the discussion didn’t go far in most of the states.

Just two months ago, Rhode Island wasn’t in the mix. Then Senate President Dominick Ruggerio filed online casino legislation in late April.

With support from House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, the bill moved quickly through both chambers.

It helped that gambling is simpler in Rhode Island. With a population just over 1 million and the smallest surface area of any state, there will not be multiple licensees.

Bally’s and IGT are the two gaming entities in the state that, between them, operate two casinos, the lottery and sports betting. Lawmakers sought to expand gaming revenue that these existing partners of the Rhode Island Lottery bring to the state.

Bally’s and IGT both have made strong investments in Rhode Island. Bally’s is headquartered in Providence.

Gambling also is the third-largest revenue generator for Rhode Island. Lawmakers see iGaming as a way to keep the state competitive in the industry with neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Bally’s projects online casino could generate $130 million in additional gross gaming revenue annually at market maturity.

Opponents offer hostile amendments on House floor

A small minority of the Rhode Island House was vocal in opposition to authorizing online casino.

Some didn’t like giving Bally’s a monopoly on iGaming.

“Why does Bally’s get a monopoly on this?” Rep. Teresa Tanzi asked. “I know other states that do this, they have a multitude of options for their folks. So if we really wanted to bring iGaming to the residents of Rhode Island because we thought it was such a great idea and it had nothing to do with money, that we would just open this up and have a multitude of different options for our citizens to choose from. But we haven’t. We chose one. We chose Bally’s without a process or bidding or any of that.”

Tanzi brought an amendment banning smoking at Rhode Island casinos. The Speaker ruled the amendment not germane to an iGaming bill.

Rep. Brandon Potter brought four amendments. All were defeated. They included:

  • Prohibiting autoplay features and requiring a random number generator to determine game outcome.
  • Requiring all software used for iGaming be located in Rhode Island.
  • Asking for an annual report from the Department of Lottery.
  • Requiring that Rhode Island casinos don’t diminish their workforce.

“This is by far the most incredibly dangerous piece of legislation that I have seen since I’ve been here,” Potter said. “It is completely unvetted, and I see no benefit other than enriching a large corporate partnership at the expense of devastating people all throughout our state, working-class people.”

Rep. Michelle McGaw said lawmakers hadn’t had time to get constituent feedback.

“Have any of your constituents asked you for this? Because only people I have heard speaking in favor of this are Bally’s and those who want the shiny bobble, all of the money that is being promised to the state of Rhode Island.”

Lawmakers quell opponent arguments

House Majority Leader Rep. Christopher Blazejewski said opponents were rehashing the old arguments against having gambling in Rhode Island.

“I’m hearing arguments about how we shouldn’t have gambling in this state. The same arguments that we heard 30 or 40 years ago. The same arguments, by the way, that have been defeated by the state voters time and time again when they’re asked to expand gambling in Rhode Island. … They’ve supported it because it is something that people use recreationally, but they also use it because it provides revenue for this state for many programs we support.”

Rep. Charlene Lima passionately defended the state’s relationship with Bally’s.

“And I’ll tell you why we have this with Bally’s. Because we have the best deal on the books with Bally’s where we get 61% of the money. And guess what? That money goes to some great programs that a lot of you have fought for. I love doing business with a company that gives us 61% return on our money, the highest in the country. You can’t get a better deal than that.”

Rep. Jon Brien said that if all the legislature did was pass legislation for which the public was clamoring, they would adjourn in January.

“Gambling is here to stay. And, for once, Rhode Island is being proactive. How many times do we sit in this room and say, well, we’re being reactive. We’re just doing what other states are doing. For once, Rhode Island is leading the charge. It’s out there. It’s not going away. Let’s lead the charge and be proactive.”

Rhode Island online casino bill details

Rhode Island’s online casino bill would create one online casino app run through the Rhode Island State Lottery. Key details include:

  • Appoints the Rhode Island Lottery to oversee online casino.
  • Taxes online slots at 61% and table games at 15.5%.
  • Sets the minimum age requirement for iGaming at 21 years old (all other forms of Rhode Island gaming are 18).
  • Requires use of live dealers for online table games.
  • Allows Rhode Island to enter into multistate agreements with other states to share iGaming liquidity. This would make a big difference for online poker in a small state such as Rhode Island.

Rhode Island online casino games

The bill defines casino gaming as any casino-style game played with cards, dice or equipment for money, credit or any representative value.

The following games are named in the bill for online play:

  • Slots
  • Roulette
  • Blackjack
  • Craps
  • Poker
  • Big Six
  • Baccarat
  • Paigow

Rhode Island online casino launch in March

The legislation sets the Rhode Island online casino launch date as March 1.

Originally, the bill put the date as the beginning of the year. But the Rhode Island Lottery asked for an additional two months.

Before the market can launch, the governor needs to sign the bill. With the issue making its way through the legislature quickly, McKee hasn’t made his thoughts known on online casino.

Once the bill reaches McKee’s desk, he has six days to sign or veto the bill not including Sunday. If he takes no action within six days, the bill could transmit into law without his signature.

RI authorizes limited in-state college sports betting

The day before legalizing online casinos for real money, the Rhode Island legislature passed another gaming bill.

When Rhode Island legalized sports betting in 2018, lawmakers prohibited wagering on in-state college teams.

Ruggerio proposed SB 3 to allow wagering on in-state college teams when they play in a tournament of four or more teams. In other words, if Providence College makes the NCAA Tournament again next year, Rhode Islanders can bet on it.

That is if the governor approves. The legislation also is on the way to McKee’s desk.

Matthew Kredell Avatar
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Matthew Kredell serves as senior lead writer of legislative affairs involving online gambling at PlayUSA. He began covering efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling in 2007 and has interviewed more than 300 state lawmakers around the country.

View all posts by Matthew Kredell

Matthew Kredell serves as senior lead writer of legislative affairs involving online gambling at PlayUSA. He began covering efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling in 2007 and has interviewed more than 300 state lawmakers around the country.

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