Rhode Island offers online casino expansion one final hope

Rhode Island Capitol
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A bill to legalize online casino in Rhode Island has passed through the Senate, offering one last hope for expansion in 2023. 

SB948, sponsored by Senator Dominick Ruggerio, passed through a full vote in the Senate and will now head towards the House where Rep Gregory Constantino has a similar bill. 

The bill would allow legalized online casino games in Rhode Island by Jan 1, 2024, with the state lottery in charge of regulating the market. 

Despite calls for the contrary, Ruggerio’s bill would not require a referendum on the issue of online casino expansion. It is worth remembering that the issue of a referendum was what ultimately ruined Gerogia’s chances of legalizing sports betting this year. 

Rhode Island’s online casino bill would give Bally’s the exclusive rights to operate in the state, via its Twin River and Twin River-Tiverton properties. Meanwhile, as its official vendor, IGT would also have access to Rhode Island’s gaming proposals. 

“This legislation provides an added convenience to Rhode Islanders who would like to play the existing table games offered at Twin River via their mobile devices,” explained Sen. Ruggerio. “It helps ensure the continued strength of the state facilities in the competitive regional gaming market, and in so doing protects an important revenue stream that provides funding for vital state programs and investments.”

Following a committee amendment, SB948 now includes legislation that requires a live dealer to be in place and streamed via a simulcast, meaning that bets are technically placed in a casino location. This helps to make the bill constitutional and avoid a referendum.

In a similar vein to New Jersey, the proposals would see Bally’s live stream dealers onto players’ mobile phones in order for them to bet. 

Further amendments see that the legal age of online table games increases from 18 to 21, whilst Bally’s would be mandated to provide funds for problem gambling education. 

“This is a focused version of igaming that is ready for passage and implementation,” added Ruggerio. “This igaming legislation is constitutional, is geared to mature users, contains education provisions for problem gamblers, and preserves the revenue allocation percentages as they are currently in place.”

There are opponents of the bill, though, who state that despite the efforts of the live dealer amendments, the legislation is still unconstitutional. 

Indeed, the state lottery itself has made its opposition to the proposals well-known, with the director Mark Furcolo telling the Providence Journal that a referendum would be required to pass. 

The Rhode Island legislative session will be adjourned on June 30.