Rhode Island Online Casino Bill Goes to Governor’s Desk
Late last week, Rhode Island became the first state of 2023 to pass an online casino gaming bill. House Bill 6348 made it through the state Senate and House chambers, 56-11 and 57-11, respectively. The final version now heads to the desk of Governor Daniel McKee to be signed into law.
Pending that expected final stage of approval, Rhode Island will become the seventh state with fully legal online casino gaming (and poker). The bill aims for a March 2024 start date for the newly legal market.
The bill was hotly debated, with several major amendments proposed during the final day legislature session. However, they were all defeated, and in the end, the bill went through smoothly with no changes.
With a small population of slightly more than a million residents, Rhode Island lawmakers have taken some unique approaches to online casino gaming.
First, they saw no need to tender multiple licenses before launch.
Existing land-based casino gaming, sports betting, and the lottery is regulated in Rhode Island by the Rhode Island Lottery. That’s done in partnership with locally based casino operator Bally’s and multinational casino game developer International Game Technology.
Seeing as the latter two are already licensed to operate in Rhode Island, they will be the sole beneficiaries of the new online casino license. There will only be one online casino app, developed between those three partners.
Another interesting quirk of the legislation is that there’s no space for virtual table games. Only live casino table games are allowed.
The bill also limits online casino gaming to people 21 years of age or older. That’s in contrast to the 18-year age minimum for all other forms of gambling in the state.
Best Deal on the Books
Some Rhode Island politicians were unhappy with the idea of Bally’s Corporation being the sole operator in the newly legal market.
The national casino operator, with 15 casinos across 10 states and $40 billion in annual wager revenue, is headquartered in the state capital of Providence.
“I know other states that do this, they have a multitude of options for their folks,” said Representative Teresa Tanzi (D-34).
“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.”
Proponents of the bill, however, pointed out the very favorable tax deal Bally’s has with the state.
Online slots at the new online casino will be taxed at 61%.
“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,” said Rep. Charlene Lima (D-14).
“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.”
Interestingly, one of the main sponsors of the iGaming bill was Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D-North Providence). The Senator stepped into hot water last month after making disparaging comments about an anti-smoking campaign run by workers at the state’s two casinos, Bally’s Twin River and Bally’s Tiverton.
Timeline to Launch
Now that the bill has been sent to Governor McKee’s desk for final approval, he has six days to make a choice. The seventh day will see automatic approval if he has not already signed it.
McKee has not officially commented on the bill. Seeing as state lawmakers approved it and he has presided over many other forms of gambling legalization, it seems likely he will sign off.
“Gambling is here to stay. And, for once, Rhode Island is being proactive,” said Rep. Jon Brien (D-49). “It’s out there. It’s not going away. Let’s lead the charge and be proactive.”
The bill originally called for a January 2024 launch. But regulators of the Rhode Island Lottery asked for and were granted a two-month extension.