Rhode Island Online Casino Bill Moves From Senate to House After 1-Month Hold

The Rhode Island General Assembly dusted off SB948, moving the online casino bill from the Senate to the House on June 9. The measure had been put on hold on May 10 to address constitutionality concerns.

On Tuesday, a Senate committee recommended the body pass a “substitute” SB948. Then yesterday, Senators approved the changed bill in a 30 to 4 vote. So today, the online casino bill entered the House Finance Committee. 

The Rhode Island House of Representatives has until June 30 to pass the bill. That’s when the legislature adjourns.

Then SB948 can proceed to Gov. Daniel McKee, who will need to sign the online casino bill before it can become law.

UPDATE: 06/12/2023

Yesterday, the House scheduled SB948 that’s in the House Finance Committee to be considered tomorrow.

Rhode Island Online Casino Bill Details

Rhode Island already offers legal online sports betting through Sportsbook Rhode Island. So SB948 proposes to use the same companies that already provide the backbone for the Rhode Island Lottery product.

Bally’s Corporation (Bally’s Corporation 13,14 -2,01%) and London-based International Game Technology (IGT) (International Game Technology PLC 19,82 -0,80%) are named in SB948.

However, it’s unclear if the product will reflect that branding the way Bally Casino does in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Also, the changed language in SB948 specifies an online casino gambling age of 21, unlike the sports betting threshold of 18.

From there, the online casino bill introduced on April 27 by state Sen. Dominick J. Ruggerio, D-North Providence, includes some drastic changes.

The online casino bill increases the online slots tax rate on the operator from 50% to 61%. Online table games that were slated to be taxed at 18% in the previous version of SB948 now show a 15.5% rate. 

Now, the changed bill doesn’t match the results from a study commissioned by the Rhode Island Department of Revenue (RIDOR). That research assumed that Rhode Island would collect 51% in taxes on online slots and 18% on table games.

So that recent study that outlined online casino gambling would generate $69.3 million in gross gaming revenue (GGR) in the first year is already outdated.

Table games will include roulette, blackjack, Big Six, craps, poker, baccarat, and paigow.

SB948 says the law will take effect on Jan. 1, 2024.

Live Dealer Added

On Thursday, the Senate issued a press release about SB948.

It says, in part:

Addressing concerns raised during the committee hearing process regarding Bally’s initial proposal, the amended legislation requires a live dealer be in place. A similar approach has been taken in many places around the country, including in New Jersey, where their law requires bets to be wagered in Atlantic City. A miniature casino is constructed, much like a television studio, and the games are simulcast to people playing through their mobile devices.

Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania’s laws mandate that the studios be located within the state. West Virginia’s gamblers see live dealers in Evolution‘s Philadelphia studio through streaming video.

The latter is a more likely outcome for Rhode Island, considering its relatively small population of 1.1 million. Plus, the new bill mentions reciprocal agreements between states.

Addressing Constitutionality

On May 10, state Sen. Elaine J. Morgan said she believed voters needed to decide whether to allow online casino gambling in Rhode Island. The Republican from Ashaway told the Senate Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs Committee members that she thought it must be a ballot measure because of the state’s constitution.

Morgan didn’t immediately respond to an email from Bonus requesting comment about whether the substitutions address her concerns.

Meanwhile, SB948 now contains language that seems to hint that Rhode Island may seek to enter the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA).

At the moment, that agreement is why online poker players in Michigan can gamble with New Jerseyans on PokerStars. WSOP bettors in Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey also compete.

The Rhode Island online casino bill now says:

The [State Lottery Division of the Department of Revenue] may enter into an interactive gaming reciprocal agreement with a regulatory agency of one or more other states or jurisdictions in which interactive gaming is authorized to allow an interactive gaming operator to accept wagers from persons not physically present in Rhode Island, and to allow persons physically present in Rhode Island to place wagers with parties to the interactive gaming reciprocal agreement, if the Division has determined that the reciprocal agreement is not inconsistent with federal and state law, including Rhode Island constitutional and statutory law.

Rhode Island Could Bring Change

While the new version of Rhode Island’s online casino bill appears to have made 30 Senators happy enough with it to send it on to the House, it won’t please everyone.

For instance, the now 20-page-long bill doesn’t appear to address an amendment suggested by Leonard Lopes on May 10. On behalf of Light and Wonder (LnW), he testified to the committee about adding language specifying operators and vendors not do business in terror states or have illegal sites elsewhere.

However, if Rhode Island does launch online casino gambling in 2024, it will be the first new US online casino marketplace since Connecticut’s went live on Oct. 19, 2021.

About the Author

Heather Fletcher

Heather Fletcher

Heather Fletcher is Lead Writer at Bonus, concentrating on online casino coverage. She specializes in breaking news, legislative coverage, and gambling marketing strategy overviews. To reach Heather with a news tip, email [email protected].
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