One of Massachusetts’ smallest neighbors may be making a big impact on the state after a decision today.
Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee has signed legislation that makes online casinos legal in Rhode Island.
Given the successful launch of online sports betting in Massachusetts, is online casino gaming next for the commonwealth? Rhode Island’s legalization of the industry could place pressure on Massachusetts to make a similar move soon.
Status of online casinos in Massachusetts
At this time, no bill has been introduced in Massachusetts to legalize online casinos. It’s likely that supporters of the idea will watch Rhode Island closely to see how that state regulates the activity.
The Rhode Island law makes online table games, slots, and poker legal in that state. Live dealers will be required for all table games, and the sole commercial operator will be Bally’s, at least initially.
Rhode Island gamblers must be located within state lines and be at least 21 years of age or older in order to utilize online casinos. Eligible bettors can play blackjack, slot games, and even live-dealer poker, all online via an app or casino betting site.
Massachusetts lawmakers have debated online casinos in the past, but the rollout online and retail sports betting took precedent. In January, the state opened retail sportsbooks, while mobile sportsbooks followed in March.
Potential revenue is the driving factor
There’s an issue of revenue at the heart of any debate on online casinos. In Rhode Island, 61% of revenue from online slots and 15.5% from online table games goes to the state.
Earlier this year, Bally’s Corporation, which owns Bally’s Casino, reported that it expected to generate as much as $210 million in the first five years of online casino operation in Rhode Island. That would provide $42 million in tax revenue to the state annually.
In the long run, Massachusetts could generate far more than that. Rhode Island has a population of only about 1.1 million, while Massachusetts has a population pushing 7 million. Massachusetts legislators may not want to miss out on a chance at millions of dollars in taxes each year from online casinos.
There’s also the possibility that some people from Massachusetts may travel into Rhode Island to partake in online poker or other casino gaming online.
How would Massachusetts regulate online casinos?
Massachusetts has three retail casinos in the state (Plainridge Park Casino, Encore Boston Harbor, and MGM Springfield), and citizens of the state have supported casinos since they were first legalized in 2011.
But online casinos are a while different ball game, and it’s hard to know how Massachusetts would regulate online casinos if it were to adopt them. In Rhode Island, just one commercial operators license has been issued to Bally’s. It could be that Massachusetts would have a strategy more like Michigan, which has several online casinos to promote consumer choice and competition.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission would likely be tapped to regulate and oversee online casino gaming and poker rooms, if they were legalized. Some states, like Nevada, have limited online casino games available, so there could be a hybrid approach in Massachusetts.
Rhode Island is the seventh state to legalize online casino and poker games. Previous states include Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.