Bills to Legalize Online Poker and Join Multi-State Pact Submitted in Rhode Island

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Bills have been submitted that, if approved, would bring the online poker industry to Rhode Island and connect its players with other states through the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA).

Rhode Island
Online poker may be coming to Rhode Island. (Image: PBS)

The two bills were submitted by Senate President Dominik Ruggerio (D-North Providence) and Rep. Gregory Constantino (D-Lincoln), and apparently has the backing of other members.

“This legislation is a first step in the public review process around potential igaming in Rhode Island,” Ruggerio said in a joint statement with House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Warwick). “The companies that manage casino operations on behalf of the state have made significant investments to ensure they are well positioned to thrive in the years ahead. It is imperative that we continue to explore all avenues to protect and bolster our competitive position, including the potential for iGaming.”

The identical bills are not limited to poker. They would allow all forms of online casino gambling, including roulette, craps, black jack, three-card poker, and whatever else the casinos could come up with to separate players from their money.

If passed, Rhode Island will be fifth state to join MSIGA, a virtual jurisdiction that allows online poker sites in member states to share player pools. Nevada, New Jersey, Michigan, and Delaware are the members. There’s no chance online poker would be offered by the online casinos in Rhode Island if they weren’t allowed to share player pools.

As was the case for Michigan, which was the last state to approve online poker and casino gambling, lawmakers in Rhode Island wrote provisions in their bills that calls to join MSIGA. This is essential simply because Rhode Island does not have enough poker players to sustain on online product.

The only casino operator in Rhode Island is Bally’s, which owns two. The company is the driving force behind the gambling expansion bills, and is mentioned in both SB 948 and HB 6348. SB 948 nows sits in the Senate Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs Committee, HB 6348 in the House Finance Committee. Only one needs to pass in order for the Bally’s to begin to offer an online product.

Rhode Island already allows online and retail sports betting and Bally’s is a powerful lobbyist, so here’s guessing one of them will pass.

It’s good news that online poker is even included in these bills, but poker players in Rhode Island may have to curb their expectations. Even if the state joins MSIGA and allows sites to share players, it still doesn’t guarantee that Bally’s will set up an online room.

The good news is that Bally’s owns a casino in Delaware, which spreads online poker through the 888 client and shares players with New Jersey and Nevada (but that contract might change).

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