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Rhode Island Casinos

Rhode Island

Rhode Island is the smallest state in the country, which means it wouldn’t be strange if they had decided to pass up most forms of gambling. But with neighbors like Connecticut and Massachusetts that are heavily invested in the gaming industry, officials have made their own moves to stay competitive in the arms race that is the New England casino market – or at least make the biggest effort possible to keep their own residents from leaving in order to spend their casino dollars.

There still aren’t many venues for players to venture to gamble here – where would they all fit? – but you can find pretty much any game you like somewhere here in the Ocean State. And while this isn’t one of the major targets for online casino expansion, it’s easy to see scenarios where government officials might try to jump on the Internet bandwagon.

Expansion is Recent Development for State

Rhode Island is hardly a leader in the gaming industry, but we have on occasion been among the early adopters of certain aspects of gambling. Take, for instance, our state lottery. After voters overwhelmingly supported a constitutional amendment to allow for a lottery in 1973, tickets began going on sale just a few months later. By 1975, a variety of tickets and drawings were available, and the state began producing the first ever televised lotto programming. Today, the lottery offers not only its own products, but also participates in all of the major interstate games, like Powerball and Mega Millions.

Today, the centerpiece of Rhode Island’s gambling scene is Twin River Casino, though this is a relatively new development. Formerly known as Lincoln Downs, it had been the site of greyhound racing since 1947, but found itself struggling in the 1990s after the opening of Foxwoods Casino Resort in Connecticut.

That’s why, in 1992, the state authorized the installation of video lottery terminals at Lincoln Park, the same year they also made keno draws legal. By 1993, there were 900 machines in place at the track, which seemed to put it back on the path to profitability.

But problems persisted there well into the new millennium. After the venue changed hands, it reopened with a new expansion in 2007, now under the name of Twin River Casino. The owners then said that it would have to end all racing at the facility in order to keep Twin River afloat; today, there is no longer dog racing at the facility.

In 2012, voters had the chance to allow Twin River and the other slots-only facility in the state, Newport Grand, to offer casino table games as well. The first measure, known as Question 1, approved the games at Twin River by a 70-30 margin, and was also passed locally, allowing for table games. Statewide, voters offered almost the same level of support for Newport Grand as well; however, Newport voters rejected the same question, essentially vetoing the idea.

Today, Twin River offers a full variety of casino games, including a small poker room that hosts both Texas Hold’em and Seven-Card Stud games. Newport Grand is more limited in its offerings, having only slots, though it does have one rather unique feature: it offers not only simulcasting of horse racing, but also of jai alai from frontons in Florida.

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Online Expansion Not in the Cards

Given the huge amount of competition in the region, you might expect Rhode Island to be open to any way to keep more gaming revenue within their borders. Sure enough, there have been a few discussions about making the leap into online gambling.

That said, a little talk isn’t the same thing as passing a law, and on the legislative side of things, there hasn’t really been any movement. This may be due to concerns that online gambling could be a competitor for the state’s land-based offerings, or just a thought that brick-and-mortar concerns are more pressing at the moment.

But regardless of the seeming inaction, many people living here still enjoy online casinos every day. Many overseas sites are available in Rhode Island, as operators view the state as a grey market, one without any regulatory framework to work in. That means a number of highly reliable sites are available to players here – and without any laws criminalizing simply playing at these virtual casinos, real money play is always just a couple clicks away.

Turf Wars with Neighbors Heating Up

Rhode Island appears unlikely to make any progress on the Internet gambling issue over the next few years. After all, it would take some rather drastic steps, including a change to the state constitution, in order to allow regulation of the industry, and that simply doesn’t seem to be in the cards right now. The atmosphere is fairly positive for future developments, but it will likely be some time before we see regulated sites here.

When it does happen, it may be a part of the ever-growing battle over the region’s gaming revenues. The next few years are set to see a lot of conflict between Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut over these issues, with all three states considering building new resorts in order to hold on to their piece of the pie.

In 2016, voters are likely to determine whether another casino could be built here, this time in the town of Tiverton – a strategic location that would be designed as an attempt to keep gamblers in state, rather than heading into Massachusetts. The Tiverton Town Council is hoping to get the question to be put up for a statewide vote in November; whether or not this happens will ultimately be determined by the General Assembly early in the year.

If this question does come up for a vote, it has the potential to provoke yet another response from Massachusetts – perhaps one that would result in changes to the process of awarding a license in their Southeastern region, which borders Rhode Island. But even a rejection of the plan is unlikely to be the last word on gambling expansion here, as New England’s casino wars are ongoing and have no obvious end in sight.

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