One day after Vermont became the last state in New England to legalize sports betting, Rhode Island one-upped the six-state region to become the seventh US state with legal online casino gaming — provided that Governor Daniel McKee signs legislation that was sent to his desk Thursday.
Lawmakers in the Rhode Island General Assembly transmitted a pair of bills, SB 948 and HB 6348, that would authorize online casino gaming and, in an added bonus, would allow multi-state online poker as well.
McKee, a Democrat, is believed to support expanded igaming — sports betting in Rhode Island has been legal since September 2019 — but has not commented on either bill. As per state statute, the governor has six days, excluding Sundays, to sign a bill into law when the legislature is in session.
The General Assembly adjourned its legislative session for 2023 early Friday morning. McKee had not yet taken action as of 4 pm ET on Friday.
Barring a last-minute veto, Rhode Island will be the seventh state in the US with online casinos. It would join its neighbor, Connecticut, as well as Delaware, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia on the list of online casino states.
Rhode Island also wouldn’t be the smallest online casino state in terms of population — it has a few thousand more residents than Delaware.
No One Saw Rhode Island Coming
Few industry observers, if any, had Rhode Island on their short list of states that could enact igaming expansion legislation in 2023.
Indiana was thought to have a decent shot of joining the small club of online casino states, but legislation in the Hoosier State faltered in February. One month later, a similar effort in New York State also fell short.
After several frustrating years, supporters of online sports betting in Kentucky finally got a bill across in March, but they had to scrap online poker to make it happen. This week, North Carolina and Vermont also joined the list of states with mobile sports betting.
Rhode Island is a surprise addition to the list of states with legal online casino gaming. The fact that Bally’s Corporation backed the idea isn’t.
Bally’s has a monopoly on land-based casino gaming in the state — it owns and operates Twin River Lincoln Casino Resort and Bally’s Tiverton Casino & Hotel. It also holds a monopoly in online sports betting, which it provides to customers under a SportsBook Rhode Island brand.
Both SB 948 and HB 6348 will also hand Bally’s a monopoly for online casino gaming.
Last February, the Providence-based company had proposed helping lawmakers with crafting legislation that would bring online casinos to Rhode Island. The bills above were introduced in April and then fast-tracked by supporters — leading to SB 948 winning passage in the Senate on June 8.
House Tinkered With Tax Rates
House lawmakers passed HB 6348 on a 57-11 vote on Thursday. They then gave the final passage to SB 948 by a 56-11 margin. Both bills reportedly passed a concurrence vote in the Senate on Thursday shortly afterward, enabling them to both be transmitted to McKee.
But the House also made changes to both bills. For starters, the tax rate was raised to 61% on slots and 15.5% on table games — previously, lawmakers set the rates at 50% and 18%, respectively.
IGT Global Solutions Corporation will now receive 22.5% of gaming revenue from slots and 35% from table games — previously, it was to get 35% from both. Meanwhile, Bally’s will get 15% from slots and 48.5% from table games, previously set at 47%.
The towns of Lincoln and Tiverton, home to the state’s two land-based casinos, would get the remainder of the tax revenue.
Both bills call for online casino gaming and poker to launch on March 1, 2024 — earlier versions of the bills called for a launch on January 1.