At just over 1,500 square miles of total land mass, Rhode Island is barely identifiable on the United States map. So it follows that the nation’s smallest state is incapable of supporting much in the way of a burgeoning gambling industry. And for the most part that’s true.
However, at nearly 1.1 million residents, Rhode Island boasts a larger population than seven other states; one of which, Delaware, has already legalized online gambling. Furthermore, back in 2011, Rhode Island’s State Lottery Director applauded the Department of Justice’s about face regarding the Wire Act. And more recently, Little Rhody added table games to one of its two slot parlors.
Taken together, these factors indicate that Rhode Island may one day venture into the online gambling mix. That probability rises if other states continue to grow their casino markets. Will it happen overnight? Undoubtedly not, but it’s not as far-fetched a prospect as one might initially think.
Can Players from Rhode Island Play Real-Money Online Poker?
Although Rhode Island’s gambling statutes do not specifically address the legality of online poker, the state appears to take a fairly strict approach towards unregulated gambling in general. Therefore, players may want to think twice before signing up at one of the seemingly endless array of US-facing poker sites at their disposal.
In general, European countries are much more amenable to online poker than they are in the U.S., which accounts for the swatch of highly traversed poker websites available to Internet grinders oversees.
Is Online Poker Legal in Rhode Island?
Rhode Island’s gambling laws are more ambiguous and confounding than most – and that’s saying something. For starters, the law fails to clarify what exactly constitutes gambling, although it does make mention of the games gambling includes:
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.
Note that poker is not specifically addressed. However, due to an odd Rhode Island Supreme Court ruling, poker was deemed a
form of lottery and therefore prohibited . As a small consolation, the court did acknowledge that poker does involve an element of skill, but apparently not enough to delineate it as a non-gambling game.
An actual definition of gambling can be further inferred by the following clause:
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 or any nature or kind whatsoever…for the purpose of exposing, setting for sale or disposing of any money, houses, lands merchandise, or articles of value…shall be deemed guilty of a felony and shall be imprisoned not exceeding two (2) years or be fined not exceeding two thousand dollars.
Essentially, the aforementioned is a long winded passage directed at unsanctioned gambling operators. It doesn’t however, address participants in any way.
However, Section 11-19-20,
Inducing others to visit gambling place, does:
Every person who shall, on any pretext whatsoever, invite, entice, or induce any other person to visit any house, room, or other place kept for the purpose of gambling, with the intent that that other person shall at that place engage gambling or playing at any game of chance, for money or other valuable consideration, shall be fined not less than five hundred dollars ($500) and be imprisoned one year.
That’s about the steepest penalty we’ve heard of for merely inviting someone to check out an underground game. Even more shocking is that the the simple act of frequenting a gambling place carries with it a 30 day jail term. Nor is there a single loophole carved out in Rhode Island law that specifically permits live or online poker in commercials casinos, slot parlors or charitable houses.
On a somewhat brighter note, at least there doesn’t appear to be any outlandish penalties for participating in a social, non-raked, poker game, although then again, there’s no built in player exemption either.
For a more comprehensive look at Rhode Island’s general laws, please refer to the references section .
Rhode Island Gambling History
From the pre-revolutionary days all the way through the early part of the 20th century, gambling was an integral facet of Rhode Island culture. However, when mob types began controlling the action in the 1920’s, governmental agencies began cracking down on the state’s many underground gambling facilities. Raids became commonplace, as did mass arrests.
It wouldn’t be until 1934 that gambling became an accepted practice. That year, voters approved a referendum legalizing pari-mutuel wagering. Throughout the next 40 some-odd years, the state operated two horse racing venues; although in 1979 the last horseracing facility hosting races in the state, old Narragansett Park , shuttered its doors.
In 1974 the state lottery was established, and has since grown to include Keno and multi-jurisdiction games such as Powerball and Mega Millions.
Greyhound racing was legalized in 1992, and by the next year slot machines were found at state tracks. The common belief is that this measure was taken so that Rhode Island’s gambling industry could compete with neighboring Connecticut’s, which had opened the mega-resort Foxwoods shortly prior.
Lawmakers flirted with the idea of opening a commercial casino since 1980, but it wouldn’t be until 2012 that Lincoln Greyhound Park would be rebranded as Twin River Casinos . That same year, the first table games were spread in Rhode Island. Live poker however, has yet to be introduced.
Regulated Gambling Options in Rhode Island
Rhode Island’s regulated gambling options are more varied than one would expect given its size – pending you’re not into live poker of course. In fact the only type of gambling you won’t find in Little Rhody is of the tribal variety. That and the state’s charitable gambling options are limited to raffles and bingo.
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Despite displaying interest in Internet gambling, Rhode Island officials have yet to take any steps towards regulation. Lottery Director Gerald Aubin seems generally opposed to the idea of expanding into an online lottery, citing
It wouldn’t generate enough money, and that it may cannibalize business from retail outlets .
The Future of Regulated Online Gambling in Rhode Island
Rhode Island’s gambling industry is in a bit of a precarious spot. Casinos are propping up like wildfire on the East Coast, increasing pressure to either join the party or be left behind. Particularly, if Massachusetts goes forth with its plan to open several commercial casinos, Rhode Island could conceivably lose out on over $400 million in gambling revenue over the next five years.
Thus, it would behoove lawmakers not to consider other alternatives, live and online poker included. Whether they will or not is anyone’s guess, but should they opt in, expect the state to emphasize online casinos and lotteries over poker, as the state’s population is not nearly big enough to sustain a thriving Internet poker industry – one needn’t look further than Delaware’s poor showing in the market to realize that .
Perhaps the only hope for Rhode Island’s online poker grinders lies in a potential interstate compact between it and other states, similar to the one already forged between small markets Delaware and Nevada. In either case it doesn’t look like we’ll be seeing online poker in Rhode Island any time before 2016.