Some of the responsible gaming settings on the Bally’s iGaming app. (Screenshot)
PROVIDENCE — As Rhode Island considers going all in on legalizing online gambling, state lawmakers want to make sure a Bally’s-backed bill is a safe bet.
The bill, sponsored by Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, a North Providence Democrat, would add iGaming to Bally’s gambling offerings through an app overseen by the Rhode Island Lottery. Companion legislation was filed in the State House by Rep. Gregory Costantino, a Lincoln Democrat.
Should the legislation pass, Rhode Island would become the eighth state with legal online poker and the seventh with online casinos.
The Senate Committee on Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs on Wednesday, May 10, voted to hold the bill for further study over issues such as raising the legal gambling age and potential increases to problem gambling.
Elizabeth Suever, the vice president of government relations for Bally’s, told the committee having this option would attract younger people who might not come to the physical casinos in Tiverton and Lincoln.
“It’s a different experience for people,” she said.
Bally’s projects that iGaming would bring in an extra $210 million in tax revenue for the state over a five-year period. Suever told the committee that 50% of the online slot gaming revenue would go directly into the state’s general fund.
The Rhode Island-based casino giant reported that it made $598.7 million last year— with 45% of revenue coming from digital gambling in North America and international markets. Bally’s acquired online gaming operator Gamesys in 2021.
As lawmakers continue to study the bill, one committee member said she would like to see some tweaks to the bill such as raising the age to use the app from 18 to 21.
“An 18-year old is going to have access to this?” asked Sen. Elaine Morgan, a Hopkinton Republican.
Concerns about teens
John Tassoni, president and CEO of the Substance Use and Mental Health Leadership Council of RI, said that his nonprofit often gets calls from 18-year-olds in high school who have gotten hooked on sports betting because of their peers.
“We have kids — entrepreneurs — in high school running gaming businesses,” Tassoni said. “If we’re going to start iGaming — we’re going to see a massive influx of kids.”
Between 60% to 80% of high schoolers say they’ve gambled for money in the past year, and up to 6% are addicted to gambling, according to the International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviors.
An 18-year old is going to have access to this?
– Sen. Elaine Morgan (R-Hopkinton)
Morgan also wondered of the constitutionality of approving such a bill. Under section 22 of the Rhode Island Constitution, the expansion of gambling must be approved by voters in a statewide referendum.
“What would happen if we spend all this money and then it’s contested?” Morgan said.
Can tools discourage problem gambling?
Another concern raised by the committee is the potential rise in addictions in Rhode Island due to easier access, which Morgan compared to “having a drug dealer online who deals to your house.”
“It’s dangerous,” the Hopkinton Republican said.
Sen. Linda Ujifusa, a Portsmouth Democrat, said many constituents have told her that people who gamble don’t see their addiction similarly to alcoholics. Their problem, she said, is that they just need to win.
“There’s kind of an incentive to keep gambling,” Ujifusa said in an interview after the hearing ended.
Suever told the committee that the app would have a number of tools to encourage responsible gaming, including session limits. When signing up for an account, users can alert the app of any gambling problems.
“If you would avail yourself of that, you would not be able to set up an account on your phone,” she said.
Users can also establish deposit and spending limits through the app. Wagers can be set on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Settings can change, but only after a 24-hour cooldown, Suever said.
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