State Rep. Charlene Lima announced her plan to introduce a bill permitting the sale of online lottery tickets, including scratch-offs.
Four other states have existing online lotteries, and at least two more are set to launch in 2018.
Rhode Island moves for online lottery sales
Lima laid out a long argument in her press release on Wednesday. Most of her supporting points are financial.
She cites the fact that Rhode Island is operating under a growing budget deficit and facing a long-term pension shortfall. Lima says the online lottery would help plug the leak. She estimates that the state could realize upwards of $25 million in additional tax revenue annually.
“Online sales would be attractive to Rhode Island’s growing Millennial population,” she argues. The average lottery player is far older than the average online gamer or gambler. Taking lottery sales online could help bridge that gap, too.
There are some potential roadblocks in the way, however. For starters, the state has constitutional language that prohibits gambling expansion without a voter referendum. Lima, however, indicated that she does not believe online lottery sales fall under that language.
What to expect in the bill
Six states have legalized the sale of online lottery tickets, and there are seven that offer online lottery game subscriptions. The most successful program has been the Michigan online lottery.
New Hampshire is in both categories. Although it hasn’t rolled out a live product yet, the NH online lottery will serve as the model for Lima’s proposal in Rhode Island. Given that, we can infer a few things that are likely to be included.
First, it will likely require in-person account registration. New Hampshire is the only state that requires this from its land-based lottery retailers. It’s the only thing that really differentiates it from other states’ products, so it seems relevant to the model Rhode Island is considering.
Customers would need to register in person with an identification that proves they are at least 18 years old. Thereafter, they would be able to purchase tickets via the internet or their mobile device.
Lima’s bill will likely include language regarding wager limits and self-exclusion, too.
Taking Rhode Island’s pulse on gambling
So far, it seems that the key figures in Rhode Island are mostly on board with gaming expansion, in a general sense.
Sen. Finance Chairman William Conley recently expressed his support for online sports betting. Conley also indicated that Senate President Dominick Ruggerio was keen on exploring the issue, too.
Sure enough, Ruggerio followed through by introducing his own piece of sports betting legislation in January. In his bill, Ruggerio contends that voters have already agreed to allow sports betting at the Twin River and Tiverton facilities under the previous referendum.
Gov. Raimondo has included it in her budget proposal for the upcoming year, too. She projects that RI sports betting could generate $23.5 million in additional tax revenue.
And Lima’s own comments seem to indicate that she’s broadly in support of gambling expansion.
Regardless of your opinion, gambling in Rhode Island and all across the world is a fact of life. It is here to stay and is an integral part of our yearly revenue stream that brings relief to the taxpayers. My legislation merely puts a modern face on gambling that has been an accepted form of adult entertainment for centuries.
That being said, the state has not acted to legalize daily fantasy sports or online poker.
Will more online gambling follow?
In the past, officials have said they believe a constitutional amendment would be required to proceed. Voters have been fairly receptive to other forms of gambling expansion, though, including passing a pair of previous referendums.
Lawmakers seem intent on skirting the referendum requirement, anyhow. And if it comes down to it, Lima is willing to see online lottery on the ballot alongside sports betting.
Since we already have a lottery and scratch tickets in RI, I do not believe the question would have to be submitted to the voters. However if the constitutional lawyers determine that it would, we can place it on the ballot along with Governor Raimondo’s legalized sports betting contained in her state budget proposal if that also is considered an expansion of gambling.
If voters do consider the issue(s), it’s fair to assume they’ll be asked about online gambling in a broad sense, rather than just the two specific issues. And if they can successfully dodge a referendum vote, it may open the door to other forms of online play, too.
It’s only online lottery for now, but progress in that arena might bode well for the future of other forms of gaming.