Rhode Island Lawmakers Laying off Online Casino Bill for Now

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Online gaming machines at a casino are shown. AFP PHOTO / GLYN KIRK.

There’s still a chance that Rhode Island will get an iGaming app to use by January, but for now, the decision to legalize it is on hold. 

Lawmakers introduced the online casino bill (SB948) in Rhode Island in April, but the Senate Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs Committee members voted to delay progress until they receive answers to some questions. The bill specifies the use of the Bally Casino app, powered by Bally’s Corporation, which operates two retail casinos in the state and advocated for the legislation.

Bally’s wants to grow its state-supported gambling business in Rhode Island to include online casino games like poker, blackjack, and slot machines. 

If approved, the bill could be implemented on January 1, 2024, with a 50% tax rate on online slots and an 18% tax rate on table games. Unlike other US jurisdictions considering online casino legalization, Rhode Island lawmakers are not concerned about the potential impact on retail casino revenue, including sports betting in Rhode Island.

Rhode Island Lottery Director Pushes Back

The legislation (S948) drafted by the Bally’s Corporation and IGT is “likely unconstitutional” as written, according to Mark Furcolo, the director of the Rhode Island Lottery. Furcolo also said that even if that legal obstacle is overcome, iGaming is likely to “cannibalize” state revenue from the current Lottery offerings.

Sports Betting Alliance Wants Healthy Competition

Jon Mandel, a representative from the Sports Betting Alliance, a group of mobile gaming operators that includes DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM, has questioned Rhode Island’s decision to limit its residents to a single choice for iGaming, making it the only state, alongside Delaware, to do so.

“The result will be no different than mobile sports betting,” he said of the exclusive online sports gaming contract the state gave IGT and recently renewed. “Residents will continue to use the illegal market, drive into Connecticut, or wait until Massachusetts legalizes iGaming to then cross the border, to the benefit of that state, not Rhode Island,” Mandel predicted.

Mandel emphasized that having several online casino providers compete in a healthy way can result in more tax revenues. Rhode Island residents would have a wide variety of betting possibilities in a competitive online gaming market.

Bally’s claims Rhode Island online casino gambling will yield more than $93 million of gross gaming revenue (GGR) in 2024.

Bally’s Provides Online Casino Gambling In 7 States

Bally’s currently provides online casino gambling outside of Rhode Island in New Jersey via Bally Casino, and its Bally Bet sportsbook is available in Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, New York, and Virginia.

The Rhode Island General Assembly must pass the Rhode Island online casino bill (SB948) before the legislative session ends on June 30. If approved and signed by Governor Daniel McKee, Rhode Island would join seven other states with legal online casinos, including

  • Connecticut 
  • Delaware
  • Michigan
  • Nevada (for online poker only)
  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania
  • West Virginia

If Rhode Island launches online casino gambling on Jan. 1st, anyone 18 and older will be allowed to play slots, table games, and poker. But some lawmakers want to raise the age to 21, so if the measure requires a ballot question, the launch date of January 1, 2024, may be delayed. 

Since the launch of Connecticut’s online casino market on October 19, 2021, no other states have brought online casino gambling. The only other active online casino bill in the U.S. is in Maine, which has not progressed since its introduction on April 25.