The Rhode Island House Finance Committee approved, without debate, an amended bill on Tuesday (June 13) to legalize internet gaming, sending it to the House floor for a potential final vote.
The bill was approved by the Senate 30-4 last week. The Finance Committee approved the bill by a 10-2 vote.
Senate Bill 948 Sub B would permit a joint venture between Bally’s Corp. and IGT to offer online casino gaming. The two companies combine to manage the state’s two land-based Twin River casinos.
The bill legalizes online slot games and live-dealer table games, but digital table games would not be permitted due to a belief among some legislators, Senate attorneys and the Rhode Island Lottery that without live dealers at the facilities, the games would be unconstitutional.
The committee passed SB 948 and its companion measure, House Bill 6349 Sub A, in less than a half-hour on Tuesday before adjourning for a House session.
Both bills raise the age to play online games from 18 to 21. The legal age to place a sports bet remains 18 in Rhode Island.
Representative Teresa Tanzi, a Democrat and member of the Finance Committee, prior to voting against both measures was assured the players would have to register iGaming accounts in person at both Bally’s casinos in Rhode Island.
Tanzi, who was first elected to the state legislature in November 2010, did not explain her no vote on Tuesday.
Unlike the 18-year-old age requirement for sports betting, players must be at least 21 to participate in internet gaming. An online gaming account can be used for both iGaming and sports betting if the customer is over 21.
The bill was introduced by Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, a Democrat, after being requested by Bally’s.
Under the proposal, the state would receive 61 percent of online slot tax revenues and a 15.5 percent share of live table game revenue. The towns of Lincoln and Tiverton, which each host a Twin River casino, would not have received anything under the initial proposal but will get 1.45 percent of iGaming revenue under the amended bill.
The amended bill also requires a study of iGaming’s impact on other Rhode Island Lottery games and sets aside $1.3m of iGaming revenue that could be used to offset any loss of revenue.
The Rhode Island Lottery Commission would be the regulator under the proposed legislation, but director Mark Furcolo has expressed concern on multiple occasions about iGaming eating into lottery mobile instant ticket sales, according to the Providence Journal.
Bally’s has estimated a legal iGaming market could generate an additional $93.3m of gross gaming revenue in its first year and as much as $130.6m in its fifth year.
If approved, Rhode Island would become the seventh state to legalize iGaming, joining Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Nevada has only approved online poker. Other states that have considered iGaming legislation this year include New York, Indiana and New Hampshire.
The effort to pass iGaming legislation in New Hampshire died in April where a bill approved by the state's Senate quickly died in the House’s Ways and Means Committee.
Unlike in Rhode Island, the bill in New Hampshire would have selected iGaming operators through a competitive bidding process.