Previous reports have Rhode Island looking into sports betting and possibly online gaming in 2018. We can now add online lottery to the mix too.
According to the Providence Journal, Rhode Island State Representative Charlene Lima plans to introduce a bill on Thursday that would authorize the lottery to sell instant win tickets online.
Per the Providence Journal, Lima remarked:
“Regardless of your opinion, gambling in Rhode Island and all across the world is a fact of life. It is here to stay and is an integral part of our yearly revenue stream that brings relief to the taxpayers. My legislation merely puts a modern face on gambling that has been an accepted form of adult entertainment for centuries.”
What the lottery bill might authorize
At this time, no details of the bill have emerged. However, Lima told the Providence Journal the bill is modeled on the online lottery legislation passed in New Hampshire in 2017.
If Lima’s forthcoming bill is based on New Hampshire’s legislation, it would allow the sale of instant win games as well as draw games both online and through mobile apps.
Some of the other provisions in the New Hampshire law that could find their way into Rhode Island’s bill are:
- Age verification, including in-person registration at a brick and mortar lottery retailer.
- Only those physically located within the state’s borders can purchase online lottery tickets.
- The setting of daily, weekly, and monthly wager limits.
- The creation of a voluntary self-exclusion program for players.
A couple unanswered questions
Is Rhode Island ready to debate the issue?
The legislation will likely have an uphill climb in the legislature, at least in 2018.
Online lottery is a new issue for the state. That means lawmakers and state officials will need to be brought up to speed on a number fronts:
- Technology to offer and regulate the games
- Researching other online lottery markets
- Possible impact on existing lottery sales
This could be a big problem, considering Lottery spokesman Paul Grimaldi told the Providence Journal it hasn’t explored offering online scratch tickets.
Will online lotteries require a Constitutional amendment?
The legislation could run into another snag. Namely that the Rhode Island constitution requires a statewide voter referendum to expand gambling.
Whether or not online lottery needs a referendum depends on how “expansion of gambling” is defined.
Rhode Island is trying to legalize sports betting without a constitutional amendment by offering it at existing casinos. The argument is it’s just a new game in the casino. Therefore, it is not an expansion of gambling.
Online lottery proponents could also use the same argument. The lottery already exists, so online lottery is just a new distribution channel and not an expansion.
Lima is pretty confident that the measure could pass a voter referendum, saying she has no objection to a referendum if its required.
Her confidence isn’t misplaced. The state has held two gambling referendums in recent years and both passed with ease.
A 2014 referendum allowing Newport Grand Casino to move to Tiverton passed by a 68-32 margin.
In 2012, state voters authorized the state’s casinos to offer table games by a 71-29 margin.