Rhode Island Online Casino Bill on Hold After Committee Hearing

The Rhode Island online casino bill, SB948, is on hold. During a hearing on May 10 in the Senate Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs Committee, members voted to wait and get questions about it answered before moving forward.

State Sen. Elaine J. Morgan, the committee’s sole Republican, said she believed adding legal online casino gambling changes the state’s constitution and would need “to go to the voters.”

She also requested changing the legal gambling age in the bill from 18 to 21.

Morgan, R-Ashaway, wasn’t the only committee member with questions, which mostly revolved around problem gambling.

In other states, the primary objection to legalizing online casino gambling in 2023 was about cannibalization of retail casino revenue. Online gambling operators say that doesn’t happen.

Meanwhile, the cannibalization worry doesn’t apply here, because SB948 outlines using Bally Casino. That’s the app arm of Bally’s Corporation. The Providence-headquartered company has two retail casinos in the state.

Rhode Island Online Casino Bill Has Support From Bally’s

State Sen. Dominick J. Ruggerio, D-North Providence, introduced SB948 on April 27. Six Democratic senators joined him in sponsoring the iGaming bill that specifically names Bally’s Corporation as the expected online casino operator.

On Feb. 15 at a business luncheon, Bally’s leaders announced they were ready to add iGaming to their online gambling offerings in Rhode Island.

Bally’s (Bally’s Corporation 13,04 -0,61%) and London-based International Game Technology (IGT) (International Game Technology PLC 20,76 +2,17%) currently fuel the state’s sole sports betting product, Sportsbook Rhode Island.

The Rhode Island Lottery will also operate Rhode Island’s online casino product if SB948 becomes law.

Today’s Committee Hearing Goes Granular

A Bally’s spokeswoman said Rhode Island online casino gambling would generate $210 million in five years.

Elizabeth Suever, a Bally’s vice president of government relations, added that Bally’s knows online casinos won’t cannibalize its retail casino revenue. Using the example of New Jersey, she said the Bally Casino app drove gamblers to the retail casino. The online casino site added visitors and income to the brick-and-mortar casino.

She said:

It’s a different experience for people.

Matthew Roob, a senior vice president of financial analysis for Spectrum Gaming Group (SGG), performed a study for Bally’s. He later testified about the revenue figures Suever supplied, repeatedly citing a comparison to West Virginia’s marketplace.

Meanwhile, during Suever’s testimony, Committee Chairman Walter S. Felag Jr., D-Warren, asked her technical questions about the app. He especially wanted to know how the site would keep children from gambling.

Suever said online casino gamblers could set up facial recognition and multi-factor authentication so that only the accountholder gambles.

State Sen. Pamela J. Lauria, D-Barrington, asked about gambling limits and ads.

Suever said most of the ads residents of Rhode Island see are due to the Massachusetts sports betting marketplace. Because Rhode Island will be a monopoly, Bally’s won’t advertise in the state.

Proposed iGaming Bill Amendments

During today’s Senate committee hearing, Jon Mandel of the Sports Betting Alliance (SBA) urged members to change the legislation and have more than one online casino operator. He offered them a bill amendment that would expand the proposed marketplace.

SBA represents:

Then, Leonard Lopes testified on behalf of Light and Wonder (LnW) and requested the committee add a bill amendment regarding not doing business with operators that are in terror states or have illegal sites anywhere around the world.

The government relations lobbyist and sports attorney said the amendment would ensure “that Rhode Island doesn’t get in bed with bad actors.”

Where Rhode Island Fits Nationally

Outside of Rhode Island, Bally’s offers online casino gambling in New Jersey through Bally Casino. Its branded online sportsbook, Bally Bet, is available in Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, New York, and Virginia.

If both chambers of the Rhode Island General Assembly approve the Rhode Island online casino bill by the time the legislature adjourns on June 30, Gov. Daniel McKee must sign SB948 before it becomes law.

Then, Rhode Island may join these seven legal online casino states on SB948’s outlined launch date of  Jan. 1, 2024:

  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Michigan
  • Nevada (online poker only)
  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania
  • West Virginia

Unless, of course, Morgan is correct that the measure must be a ballot question.

So far, no other states have legalized online casino gambling since Connecticut’s marketplace launched on Oct. 19, 2021.

The only other active US online casino bill is LD1777 in Maine. That bill hasn’t advanced since it was introduced on April 25.

Rhode Island Online Casino Bill Details

If Rhode Island launches online casino gambling on Jan. 1, those 18 and older can play slots, table games, and poker.

The operator will see a 50% tax rate on online slots and 18% on table games.

Bally’s claims Rhode Island online casino gambling will yield $93.3 million of gross gaming revenue (GGR) in 2024. Bonus has questions about that and other revenue predictions from Bally’s.

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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