Rhode Island gambling laws allow a wide range of legal wagers, though online gambling is banned. The state’s lawmakers allowed pari-mutuel bets on thoroughbred racing as early as 1934, when Narragansett Park opened. Narragansett Park was where Seabiscuit won its first race, but the venerable race track closed by 1978. Lincoln Downs continued for decades more, but only because of a 1992 bill which allowed video lottery terminals (VLTs).
Since then, Rhode Island has seen a steady expansion of gambling at its two land-based casinos, now named Twin River Casino and Tiverton Casino. These days, the facilities have VLTs, live gaming tables, simulcasting, and off-track betting. The Rhode Island Lottery got an early start in 1974, while the state was one of the first to sign on to the multistate lottery association, Powerball, in 1988. It joined the Mega Millions multistate lottery association in 2010.
Rhode Island’s gambling code is idiosyncratic. Obscure games like Policy and Bolita are mentioned prominently in the main definition of gambling. The state troopers are given the responsibility of charitable gambling regulatory oversight. Full casino gambling was legalized this decade, but the gaming operations were pari-mutuel race tracks for decades under other names. One city refused to legalize table games, but quickly passed sports betting. Here’s a complete rundown of Rhode Island’s gaming laws.
Section 11-51-1(a): What Is Gambling?
“‘Gambling’ includes, but is not limited to, pool-selling, bookmaking, maintaining slot-machines, roulette wheels or dice tables, and conducting lotteries, Policy, Bolita, or numbers games or selling chances in them.”
Rhode Island’s definition of gambling is expansive. Not only is pool-selling and bookmaking illegal, but even maintaining gaming equipment is considered gambling activity. If you have slot machines, roulette wheels, or craps tables, you can be charged with illegal gambling.
Bolita is a form of lottery played in the United States by people of Puerto Rican or Cuban descent and is strictly illegal in Rhode Island. “Policy” is a numbers game traditionally organized by Italian-Americans which is considered a racket — references tend to call such games a “Policy racket”.
R.I.G.L. § 11-19-1 Forms of gambling prohibited.
“Every person who shall, directly or indirectly, set up, put forth, carry on, promote, or draw, publicly or privately, any lottery, chance, game, or device of any nature or kind whatsoever, or by whatsoever name it may be called, for the purpose of exposing, setting for sale or disposing of any money, houses, lands, merchandise, or articles of value, or shall sell or expose to sale lottery policies, purporting to be governed by the drawing of any public or private lottery, or shall sign or endorse any book, document, or paper whatsoever, for the purpose of enabling others to sell, or expose to sale, lottery policies, except as authorized in this chapter and in title 41 and chapters 61 and 61.2 of title 42, shall be deemed guilty of a felony and shall be imprisoned not exceeding two (2) years or be fined not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000).”
Running an illegal gambling operation brings with its fairly harsh punishments: a prison sentence of no more than 2 years and a fine of no more than $2,000. Consider that the sentence in Vermont is 2 months and $200 and you’ll see the Rhode Island has much harsher sentences than some of its New England neighbors.
R.I.G.L. § 11-19-41 Police regulation of bingo and permitted games of chance.
“The Division of State Police shall have the power and authority to license, regulate, supervise and exercise general control over the operation of bingo and permitted games of chance including, but not limited to, the conduct of permitted games of chance, the distribution of prizes, and the use and licensing of equipment specifically designed to be utilized to conduct bingo and permitted games of chance, as well as the licensing of persons, firms, corporations in the business of the sale and rental of equipment concerning bingo and permitted games of chance.”
“The Rhode Island state police shall have the power and authority to investigate as to the direct or indirect ownership or control of any licenses and to revoke or suspend any license for just cause after a hearing.”
Rhode Island originally placed bingo games under the Lottery Commission, but chose to place oversight and enforcement in the hands of the state police. It is an interesting departure from most US states, who call on state troopers and sheriff’s department to raid illegal gambling operations, but do not have them handle regulatory oversight.
Bingo parlor scandals and a grand jury probe led to charitable gambling oversight being handed to the Division of State Police, so that episode probably explains the divergence.
Yes. Gambling at casinos, sportsbooks, lottery vendors, and bingo halls is legal in Rhode Island. The state once had greyhound racing, thoroughbred racing, and harness racing, but the venues closed at various times over the decades. One race track became Twin River Casino, which has VLTs and live table games. Both casinos have simulcasting and pari-mutuel wagering, so they act as off-track betting facilities these days. Sports betting launched in late 2018.
Online gambling is illegal, but there are signs Rhode Island might legalize online lottery sales in the near future. If so, online casinos and poker rooms might follow. In 2018, Rhode Island State Rep. Charlene Lima introduced a bill to legalize online lottery ticket sales. The bill did not pass in 2018, but the state legislature passed the sports betting bill, so lawmakers are not dead-set against gambling.
One reason that legislators have been hesitant to approve online lottery sales because of the US Department of Justice’s ban of interstate online gambling. The New Hampshire Lottery is suing the DOJ because its policies limit their online lottery ticket sales, so Rhode Island might be waiting to see how the litigation plays out.
While land-based sports betting is now legal, mobile sports betting apps are still banned. In February 2019, the legislature began to debate the merits of mobile sports betting, so bookmaking might be expanded in 2019.
Online poker is not legal in Rhode Island. The legislature has not debated an online gambling bill since it became a possibility in 2011. All energy involving gambling was placed on the land-based casino operations in Lincoln and Tiverton. With only a slots parlors (VLTs) until a few years ago, online casinos and poker sites seemed a bridge too far.
With Rep. Charlene Lima’s draft legislation for online lottery ticket sales, Rhode Island might pass a bill that expands gambling to the Internet in 2019 or 2020. While online lottery sales would not necessarily lead to online poker and casinos, it might open the door for iGaming. The thinking goes: if it’s okay to sell lottery tickets online, why not allow Rhode Island residents to play casino games and poker online?
The same could be said about the current bill which would allow mobile sports betting. If the population can make sports bets on their Android phones and iPhones, players might eventually want to place mobile casino bets and play mobile poker. For now, that is all a pipe dream.
Yes. A broad swath of top Rhode Island political leaders supported the state’s sports betting legalization effort. Rhode Island Speaker of the House Nick Mattiello and Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio each expressed support early in 2018 for the bill, which was introduced by Sen. Finance Chairman William Conley. Gov. Gina Raimondo also expressed support for the bill, so it was no surprise when she signed the bill into law later in 2018.
By November 2018, Twin River Casino in Lincoln launched a land-based sportsbook. Tiverton Casino launched its sportsbook in early December. Both reported successful rollouts, including a number of big winners from local bettors wagering on the New England Patriots in their playoff run to Super Bowl LXIII.
With brick-and-mortar bookmaker bets allowed, the Rhode Island state legislature began debating the legalization of single-state mobile sports betting in February 2019. Mattielo, Ruggerio, Conley, and Raimondo appear to support the new effort, so the bill should pass sometime later in 2019. Live betting app designers will need to assure Tiverton and Twin River’s mobile betting apps do not violate the Federal Wire Act’s prohibition on interstate sports betting, but otherwise few obstacles remain.
Yes. Rhode Island has two land-based casinos: Tiverton Casino in Tiverton and Twin River Casino in Lincoln. Twin River Casino operates on the grounds of a longstanding race track, Lincoln Downs, which opened in 1947. Lincoln Downs renamed itself to Lincoln Park in 1976, but continued to operate as a greyhound park into the 1990s, when the legislature allowed 192 video lottery terminals to be added to the complex in 1992. By 1993, the racino had 900 VLTs. Simulcasting was added in 1991, though pari-mutuel wagering became a smaller part of the operation over the next 20 years.
By 2011, Lincoln Downs was beset with scandal and bankruptcy in 2011, when owners said it had to close down greyhound racing to survive. Ownership eventually transferring to the creditors: Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Sankaty Advisors. A statewide referendum allowed Twin River Casino to add live table games in 2012, with the people of Lincoln approving the measure in November 2012.
Newport Grand (Tiverton Casino) needed support from the residents of Tiverton to add table games, but the measure failed to pass on two occasions. Twin River agreed to purchase Newport Grand in 2015 and renamed the operation Tiverton Casino. The two casinos remain in competition with Plainridge Park, a racino across the border in Massachusetts in the town of Plainville, which is why the launching of sportsbooks was important. To this point, Plainridge Park still does not have a sportsbook, so bettors flock to the Rhode Island casinos.
|City||Name Of Casino||Address||Phone Number||Details|
|Lincoln||Twin River Casino||100 Twin River Road, Lincoln, Rhode Island 02865-4835||(401) 723-3200||4,200 Gaming Machines, 113 Poker and Gaming Tables, Race Book|
|Tiverton||Tiverton Casino Hotel||777 Tiverton Casino Boulevard, Tiverton, Rhode Island||(401) 816-6000||1,000 Gaming Machines, 32 Poker and Gaming Tables|
Though Lincoln Downs/Twin River Casino is technically a legal betting track, greyhound races have not been held on the site for years. Technically, Rhode Island allows pari-mutuel wagering, but in a small state, the business is no longer profitable. Simulcasting races from 200 tracks nationwide still takes place.
Narragansett Park near Pawtucket operated from 1934 to 1978, but has been closed for decades.
Twin Rivers Casino and Tiverton Casino offer simulcasting to this day. Since they have no races, these operations act as off-track betting facilities. Twin Rivers Casino has simulcasting every day but Tuesday. Tiverton Casino has simulcasting 5 days a week, Wednesday through Sunday. Simulcasting begins at noon at both facilities.
Yes. The Charitable Gaming Unit oversees the licensing and regulation of Rhode Island’s charitable gambling. Originally, charitable gambling included provisions for raffles, week club raffles, poker nights, Las Vegas nights, and bazaars. When the General Assembly passed the Charitable Gaming Act in 1979, the Charitable Gaming Unit was placed under the auspices of the Rhode Island Lottery Commission. By 1983, the regulators passed under the authority of the Division of State Police.
The transfer of authority came after a 1982 grand jury was convened to investigate abuses of the bingo law. Eventually, the grand jury recommended the State Police oversee charitable gambling, because of its ability to enforce the law. The same grand jury recommended that poker nights and Las Vegas Nights (which included table games) be banned. In 1993, the list of allowed games changed, so now the Charitable Gaming Unit allows only raffles, bazaars, and bingo.
Yes. Rhode Island citizens can enjoy free-to-play social casino games on Facebook and other social gaming sites. Brands like Zynga, Big Fish Games, Slotomania, and Double Down Casino have downloadable mobile gaming apps that allow freeplay casino gaming. PlayMGM also has free casino games with the added advantage of offering MGM Resorts rewards. A player can enjoy free gaming on PlayMGM and win rewards which could be used at the MGM Springfield in Western Massachusetts.
If players wish to know if social casino games in the form of poker nights and Las Vegas nights are legal, they are not. In 1993, the Charitable Gaming Unit made it illegal for charitable organizations to raise funds with poker nights and Las Vegas nights.