Bally's wants to set up online gambling in Rhode Island
PROVIDENCE – Bally's wants to grow its state-supported gambling business in Rhode Island to include online casino games like poker, blackjack and slot machines, the company announced Wednesday.
The company, which owns Rhode Island's two physical casinos and was formerly known as Twin River, is asking lawmakers to add "I-gaming" to the gambling offerings it has the exclusive rights to sell people here.
"We see this as a vital step to secure our competitive advantage and ensure critical revenue to the state," Bally's Senior Vice President Craig Eaton told political and business leaders at a Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce legislative forum at the Rhode Island Convention Center. "Despite area competition, which is growing to our north and to our southwest in Connecticut, we know we have to keep improving our products and experiences. We can't sit still, and we need to meet our customers where they are."
Bally's plans to have legislation introduced in the General Assembly in the coming days to allow I-Gaming modeled on the profit-sharing arrangement for legalized sports betting, Eaton said.
Bally's places sports bets at its two brick-and-mortar Rhode Island casinos while online sports bets happen through an app run by Bally's consortium partner IGT. IGT's sports betting contract ends this November.
The state controls all gambling and gets a cut of all profits from contractors Bally's and IGT.
It was not immediately clear what percentage of I-Gaming revenues the state would receive under the new proposal, but Eaton estimated it would produce $210 million in state revenue over five years.
Bally's spokeswoman Patti Doyle said I-Gaming ideally would be integrated with online sports betting, but no details were available on how that would fit with the state's current mobile sports betting app, made by IGT.
"IGT has a well established position as a leader in the digital gaming market," IGT spokesman Bob Vincent wrote in an email. "The company has not been in discussions with Bally about their ideas in this regard but we expect that we will be at the appropriate time. As to the sports betting contract, that is a separate matter.”
The Rhode Island Lottery already offers online Keno and a collection of I-Games with names like Hog Heist and Glacial Gold.
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio told reporters after the forum that he asked Bally's to put together an I-Gaming proposal after hearing about the concept at a conference on gambling.
"I know it's going to be a revenue generator," he said. "It'll be convenient for people ... They don't have to go up [to the casino]. They can stay at home."
House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi said he is not familiar with I-Gaming and would evaluate the proposal once legislation is introduced.
Is Rhode Island becoming too reliant on the gambling habits of its residents to fill state coffers?
"It is always a concern. It is something we look at, we balance," Shekarchi said. "But it is to some degree like the marijuana legislation. Are neighboring states going to do it? Are the Indian casinos in Connecticut going to do it? Is Wynn going to do it in Massachusetts? Are we going to be left behind?"
In non-gambling news from the Chamber legislative luncheon, Ruggerio said the Senate is looking to cut tangible property taxes that businesses pay on equipment and inventory, although he did not have specifics.
Both Ruggerio and Shekarchi credited Gov. Dan McKee with proposing a sales tax cut from 7% to 6.85%, but suggested it may be too timid.
"I hope we can increase the tax cuts if the money is there," Shekarchi said.
Senate Republican Leader Jessica de la Cruz and House GOP Leader Michael Chippendale both support cutting the sales tax rate 2 percentage points to 5%.
De la Cruz said she couldn't even pay for a Valentine's Day dinner with her husband on the $39 per year McKee's proposed sales tax cut is projected to save the average household.
Chippendale called the tangible tax levied by municipalities "onerous" and "crippling."
Wrapping up the event talking about development in Providence, Ruggerio criticized the past two chairmen of the Route 195 Redevelopment Commission for allowing apartments to be built in the reclaimed highway land instead of insisting on building medical and research facilities.
"It was meds and eds; we had some great ideas initially on who to bring there," he said. "I think the new chair realizes the direction we need to go there. I think we should basically stick to the script.... I think we can generate many jobs in high salary areas with the work that can be done in these biotech facilities."