Rhode Island Legislature Approves Online Casino Bill

June 16, 2023
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Rhode Island is on the verge of being the first, and potentially only, U.S. state to legalize online casino gaming this year following successful votes in both chambers of the legislature Thursday.

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Rhode Island is on the verge of being the first, and potentially only, U.S. state to legalize online casino gaming this year following successful votes in both chambers of the legislature Thursday.

On the final day of the state’s legislative session, the state's House of Representatives voted 57-11 to pass both Senate Bill 948 and House Bill 6248, identical versions of bills that would grant a joint venture of Bally’s and IGT the right to offer online casino gaming.

The Senate voted in favor of the bill last week and concurred with several minor changes the House made Thursday night shortly after the measure passed in the House.

The legislation will now go to Governor Daniel McKee, a Democrat, for his signature. Both chambers of the legislature feature a heavy Democratic majority.

The bill permits Bally’s Corp., which operates the state’s two land-based casinos, to offer online slots and online live dealer table games as early as March 2024. Digital table games will not be permitted, as legislators and attorneys voiced concerns that permitting them would violate the state’s constitution.

As part of the bill, the state receives a 61 percent share of online slot revenues and a 15.5 percent share of table game revenue.

Although the bill passed with a significant majority in the House, debate on the bill was spirited, with a vocal minority advocating that the process to move the bill forward was rushed to give a corporation a monopoly on online casino.

“If we really wanted to just 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, we would just open this up and have a multitude of different options for our citizens to choose from,” said Democratic Representative Teresa Tanzi.

“But we chose one. We chose Bally's without a process or bidding or, or any of that.”

Representative Brandon Potter, a Democrat, pushed for a series of amendments to the bill, including prohibiting auto-play features, requiring the usage of random number generators, and requiring software providers to be located in the state, all of which were unsuccessful.

“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.”

However, supporters of the bill did not waver in their support of the plan.

“I'll tell you why we have this with Bally's, because we have the best deal in the books with Bally’s where we get 61 percent of the money,” Democratic Representative Charlene Lima told the chamber. “And guess what, that money goes to some great programs that a lot of you have fought for, so I don't understand what the concern is.”

Christopher Blazejewski, the Democratic House Majority Leader, said many of the opposing arguments were a rehash of decades of gaming arguments as the state has continued to expand gambling.

“I'm hearing arguments about how we shouldn't have gambling in this state, the same arguments that we heard 30, 40 years ago,” Blazejewski said. “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, whether it's VLTs, whether it's slot machines, whether it's online poker, whether it's table games, all those sorts of things, Rhode Island voters have supported it.”

The biggest change the House made, other than technical corrections, was increasing a hold-harmless payment to the Rhode Island Lottery in the event that online casino gaming cannibalizes traditional lottery products.

Bally’s would be required to make an annual payment of 100 percent of any shortfall up to $1m, and 50 percent of the next $1m compared with the net revenue in the most recent fiscal year before online casino gaming launches in the state.

If McKee signs the bill, Rhode Island will be the first state in 2023 to adopt online casino gaming legislation, and only the eighth state in the U.S. to feature some form of online casino gaming, including poker.

Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia have legalized iGaming, while Nevada has only approved online poker.

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