Published: February 16, 2024

iGaming to launch at Bally’sTwin River March 1

It’s a safe bet Rhode Island will be right on time to make its debut into online gambling.

Right in line with the start date laid out in the 2023 law, live dealers at Bally’s Twin River Casino in Lincoln will begin simulcasting table and slot games to players’ phones and laptops starting March 1. 

Marc Crisafulli, chairman of Bally’s Rhode Island’s board of directors, confirmed the casino operator’s upcoming “soft launch” into iGaming on Thursday during the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce annual legislative leadership luncheon. The event was sponsored by Bally’s Corp.

Crisafulli in his prepared remarks did not explain what “soft launch” meant or provide other details. Patti Doyle, a spokesperson for Bally’s Corp. declined to comment, saying the company would announce details later this month.

The foray into online gambling prompted a fiery debate on the final day of the 2023 legislative session. Proponents, including Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, who sponsored the Senate bill, stressed the importance of boosting state coffers and staying competitive with neighboring states; Connecticut has offered iGaming since 2021 while Massachusetts debuted online sports betting in the spring of 2023 with eye-popping revenue in the initial rollout.

Ruggerio was scheduled to speak at the chamber event Thursday but did not attend due to back problems, according to Greg Pare, a spokesperson for Ruggerio.

In an emailed statement, Ruggerio said he was “excited” for the forthcoming implementation.

“iGaming will ensure that Rhode Island remains at the forefront of the competitive gaming industry, reinforcing a critical revenue stream for the state while providing an alternative form of entertainment,” Ruggerio said. “It builds upon other steps we have taken to better position Rhode Island in the gaming and hospitality industries, including a new partnership with CCRI to train Rhode Islanders for good paying, secure job opportunities in gaming and related areas of the hospitality industry.”

The headline of the annual event was a panel discussion with legislative leaders, moderated by Chamber President Laurie White, speaking to a crowd of more than 600 lawmakers  and business leaders. In years past, the event has made headlines for major news announcements, including Bally’s Corp. ‘s 2023 reveal for its “legislative initiative” for online casino gambling. Yet apart from Crisafulli’s brief mention of the forthcoming debut of iGaming, there was little new information shared Thursday.

Lawmakers participating in the discussion were  Democrats House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, House Majority Leader Chris Blazejewski and Senate Majority Leader Ryan Pearson, as well as Republican House Minority Leader Mike Chippendale and Senate Minority Leader Jessica De La Cruz.

Leaders shared their top spending priorities for the fiscal 2025 budget, while stressing the need for caution amid a slowdown in revenue. Topping the list: education, health care, and potentially, the 20% state match required on federal funding to repair or rebuild the I-195 Washington Bridge.

Gambling did not emerge as a priority or topic of questioning during the panel discussion, despite its prominence at the State House last year.

Rhode Island was forecast to receive an extra $24.1 million in revenue from iGaming in the first year, growing to $38.8 million by year five, according to a 2023 report by Christiansen Capital Advisors, LLC, a consultant hired by the Rhode Island Department of Revenue.

The revenue projections reflect a full 12 months of online gaming activity for the first year, however, rather than a March 1 start date, according to Paul Grimaldi, a spokesperson for the Rhode Island Department of Revenue, which includes Rhode Island Lottery. Grimaldi said in an email that the “soft launch” means simulcasts will not be streamed 24/7 initially.

Gov. Dan McKee’s proposed fiscal 2025 budget assumes $411.4 million in revenue from the Rhode Island Lottery, including money from in-person casino gambling, video lottery, and sports betting. The budget proposal notes that the expected revenue is 1.7% less than the revised fiscal 2023 estimates, citing competition from sports betting in Connecticut and Massachusetts. 

The online slot and table gaming wagers will be accepted only from players 21 and older who are physically in Rhode Island at the time of their bet, per state law. As with all other forms of gambling, the state would retain control of procedures, security, operations and accounting.

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