Rhode Island is poised to become the seventh state in the United States to embrace online casino gaming. A bill to this effect, SB 948, recently sailed through the state Senate, garnering a resounding majority of 30-4 votes. The bill now awaits final approval from the House before it can move to Governor Daniel McKee's desk for ratification.
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D-North Providence) introduced the online casino bill, SB 948, in the Senate on April 28. On the same day, an identical bill, HB 6348, was introduced by Rep. Gregory Constantino (D-Lincoln) in the House. The Senate Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs Committee gave its nod to SB 948 on June 6.
The bill has since been forwarded to the House and is currently under the purview of the House Finance Committee. This panel had earlier been requested to review HB 6348.
However, this bill was held for further examination during the committee's last meeting on May 23. The committee's future schedule for discussing SB 948 remains uncertain.
SB 948 is designed to cater to adult users, embedding provisions for educating problem gamblers within it. It also maintains the existing revenue allocation percentages. If approved, online casino gaming and poker could go live in Rhode Island as early as January 1, 2024.
A tax rate of 50% would apply to slots and 18% to table games. IGT Global Solutions Corporation would net 35% of the gaming revenue from slots and table games.
Bally's would receive 15% from slots and 47% from table games. The Rhode Island Lottery would serve as the regulator of these online offerings.
Senate President Ruggerio expressed optimism about the bill, stating it offers an added convenience to Rhode Islanders who wish to enjoy existing table games via their mobile devices.
He referred to Twin River Lincoln Casino Resort, a land-based casino owned and operated by Bally's Corporation, as a reference point.
Ruggerio stressed that the bill could ensure the continued robustness of state facilities in the competitive regional gaming market. Doing so would protect a vital revenue stream that funds crucial state programs and investments.
Bally's Corporation owns and operates the Tiverton Casino & Hotel and has a stake in this legislation. In February, the Providence-based company's executives proposed assisting lawmakers in framing legislation to usher online casinos into Rhode Island.
In a noteworthy move, the Senate appended a few amendments to the bill. One such addition mandates the presence of a live dealer for any online casino offering. This stipulation is crucial because it equates online wagers with those placed at a land-based facility, helping the state bypass the need for a referendum on expanding iGaming. Senate President Ruggerio pointed out that a similar approach had been followed by New Jersey, where all wagers must be tethered to a land-based casino in Atlantic City.
The bill further restricts online table games to players who are 21 years and older. Bally's has agreed to provide additional resources to educate young people and problem gamblers. However, the specifics of these plans were not disclosed.
Ruggerio reassured that the iGaming legislation is constitutional, targeted towards mature users, and contains provisions for educating problem gamblers. It also preserves the revenue allocation percentages as they currently stand.
The Rhode Island General Assembly will adjourn on June 30, giving lawmakers a finite window to pass SB 948. If approved, it will be forwarded to Governor Daniel McKee, who is believed to favor the legislation.
With the potential to reshape Rhode Island's gaming landscape, this legislation promises to enhance the state's competitiveness in the regional gaming industry while ensuring the protection of its revenue streams. The bill's progress will be closely watched by stakeholders as it moves toward its final stages.