Rhode Island Gambling Laws

An Overview Of The Gambling Laws In The State Of Rhode Island

The smallest State by land area has neighbors who are big on gambling, with Connecticut already host to two massive casino resorts and Massachusetts currently going through the process of licensing their own casinos. This led Rhode Island to introduce table games to their Twin River Casino recently. Other than this, there are not too many opportunities within the State to gamble. This page takes you through the Rhode Island Gambling laws in detail.

First of all below is a quick paced journey through the history of gambling in Rhode Island, starting from the early days of horse races and going through to the present day. Next I have taken one form of gambling game at a time, and outlined the current legal status under Rhode Island law. After this you’ll find some important pieces of the Rhode Island Statutes, along with a legal timeline. At the end of this page is a summary and a look at possible future scenarios for this State.

Rhode Island Gambling Laws – A Brief History

It can be hard to be a small State, especially when your neighbors have popular gambling resorts of their own. Connecticut has its huge casino resorts in the form of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun just a couple of hours away. Massachusetts has a healthy horse-racing industry, and lower taxation helped this state to out-compete Rhode Island, who (lacking in governance that were able to see the big picture) were forced to close down their racetracks.

Today you can bet on Greyhound racing at Lincoln Park, and enjoy simulcast opportunities at this venue and also the Twin River Casino. As in many North Eastern States, you can bet on Simulcasts of Jai-Alai too.

Rhode Island pioneered live lottery draws, having a weekly televised drawing as far back as 1975. The lottery remains hugely popular here, and now includes Keno games, inter-State games, and electronic terminals – which can be found at the Lincoln Park racetrack as well as at lottery retailers State-wide. Charity gambling is also allowed, though this was toned-down from its initial wide remit to include only bingo and raffle type games. Bingo is legal for seniors in social games, as long as nobody is profiting from running the games and the prizes are $400 or less in total each week.

Casino games came to Rhode Island only recently. In 2010 a law was passed approving table games at Casinos, subject to local approval. Twin River got this approval in 2012, and started Table games in 2013, it is early days, though the hope is that the better spread of games will keep some gamers in-State who would have crossed over into Connecticut.

Poker is absent from Rhode Island in every format you can think of, with no live games, charity games, social games or online games carved-out under the existing laws.

What Forms Of Gambling Are Legal?

Casino Games: Yes, there is a single State regulated casino offering class 3 gaming (table games and video slots). A very viable alternative for Rhode Island residents is to cross over to neighboring Connecticut and enjoy the huge casino resorts of Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun.

Online Casinos: No, as is the norm under State laws, there is nothing explicitly banning online casino gambling from Rhode Island, though the current broad-based laws are thought to cover this.

Live Poker: No, you can’t get a game of poker anywhere in this State! There is no carve-out for social games (home games) and charity gambling law does not include poker, as far as this game goes, this is a dry State.

Online Poker: No, again nothing explicitly bans the playing of this game, the authorities feel that the current laws are sufficient.

Sports Betting: Yes, pari-mutuel betting on greyhound races is available, this can take place from one Lincoln Park, the other venue (the Twin River Casino) stopped live races in 2009. Simulcast betting and Jai Alai betting are still permitted on site.

Lottery Betting: Yes, there is a State lottery in Rhode Island which includes Keno games and VLTs (virtual lottery terminals) with their own instant gambling type games.

Bingo Games: Yes, as in many other States, bingo and raffles are allowed under charity gambling laws.

Rhode Island Gambling Laws – Statutes And Legal Timeline

Rhode Island law takes the route of providing a broad (if vague) definition of what gambling means, and then making everything that is not specifically exempted within the statutes illegal. There is no specific reference to online gambling, though it is not hard to see how this could be seen as the operation of a gambling device. One interesting definition is that people who frequent places where non-authorized gambling takes place are breaking the law in this state.

Here are the interesting excerpts from the books, starting with the wide-ranging ‘Forms of Gambling Prohibited’ wording:

“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,” (from 11-19-1)

Next the definition of 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.”

Finally, the catch-all, if it is not specifically exempted by chapter 4, then it is illegal:

“"Organized criminal gambling business" does not refer to betting specifically authorized by chapter 4 of title 41 or any act in amendment of that chapter, nor to any form of gambling otherwise licensed or permitted by specific statutory enactment.”

Here are the key dates in the history of gambling in the State of Rhode Island:

1934: Pari-mutuel betting on horse races first introduced, with the Narragansett Park opening that same year. While there was a short lived boom in horse racing - this State were not able to compete (in terms of taxation of bets) with neighboring Connecticut. Today only one greyhound racing track exists, though simulcast betting from other States is permitted on-track.

1973: Lottery gambling was signed into law, with the first draw taking place 1 week later. Rhode Island was the first State to have a televised weekly draw, starting in 1975. Inter-State draws, keno and electronic lottery games (first introduced in 1992) are all now run under auspices of the Lottery Commission.

1979: Charitable gambling was legalized, this originally include poker and casino nights in addition to bingo and raffles. In 1993 these laws were amended, leaving only raffles, bingo and bazaars. All games need to be licensed by the lottery commission.

2003: Lincoln Park becomes a ‘racino’ with the installation of 1200 VLTs.

2010: Table games now legal at the two racinos (Twin River Casino and Lincoln Park), subject to referendums at a local level.

2012: Twin River Casino approved for table games by a large local majority, Lincoln Park residents rejected the proposal for their track. The first table games were offered by Twin River in 2013.

Rhode Island Gambling Laws – Summary And Look To The Future

The recent legislation to allow casino table games will hopefully herald the start of a new chapter for gambling in Rhode Island – who were being out-played by their larger State neighbors for both casino and racing revenues. The need for extra revenue here might also see RI join the new wave of States who are regulating online poker games. There have been no acts put forward for debate, or official announcements to this effect at the time of writing.

Useful Resources:

Statutes (Summary From Gambling Law Masters + Detailed From RI Code)

Attorney General’s Office Overview Of Gambling

History Of Greyhound Racing