Rhode Island Online Casino Launch Likely 2024’s Last

Rhode Island Online Casino Launch Likely 2024’s Last
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The seventh state to go live with real money iGaming will likely be the only state to do so this calendar year.

Rhode Island’s legal real money online casino gaming launch was the nation’s first in 2024 and seventh overall. It will likely be the last for the foreseeable future. 

Only a handful of states have considered iGaming legislation during their respective 2024 legislative sessions. Even their most bullish proponents remain skeptical any legalization bills pass before most sessions conclude this summer. 

Passing real money online casino gaming legislation is a difficult task, Fanatics VP Brandt Iden told an industry conference Wednesday. Iden, a former Michigan lawmaker who spearheaded his state’s successful iGaming legislation efforts, told attendees at the Next.Io conference in New York that legalization efforts were hard and not getting easier. 

Legalization hopeful’s efforts falter 

New York entered 2024 as one of the industry's legalization favorites. The state has increasingly embraced gambling in the past decade including the voter-backed approval for seven new commercial casinos. It also has the nation’s highest-grossing regulated sports betting market. 

Online slot and table game legalization was not included in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s upcoming fiscal year budget, a major political blow that thwarted legalization hopes. Lawmakers backing iGaming remain publicly bullish, but industry observers are increasingly pessimistic that a deal can be reached before the state’s April budget deadline. 

Maryland, which eclipsed New York as 2024’s likeliest legalization hopeful, has seen its momentum stalled by rising opposition from opponents including problem gaming officials and casino employees. Legislation remains active, but the dissent seems poised to postpone further activity through the end of the year – if not further. 

Other potential candidates including Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa - Midwestern states that have been among the nation’s most progressive gambling markets - have made little progress. Dark horse 2024 legalizers such as Wyoming and New Hampshire have seen early legislative interest falter quickly. 

Political opposition remains strong 

Though iGaming, like sports betting, has seen bipartisan support, it also has drawn bipartisan opposition. Conservative, anti-gambling lawmakers fear legal real money casinos would create “a slot machine in every pocket,” sparking problem gambling and other societal ills. Liberal opponents worry online slots and table games will prey on the financially and socially disadvantaged. 

Some leading casino employee groups have also opposed mobile casino gaming. Studies in iGaming adopters such as Michigan have shown digital gaming doesn’t detract from brick-and-mortar casino gaming and, in many cases, bolsters revenues. 

Nevertheless, casino union groups argue these new games will hurt employees working at brick-and-mortar casino properties. Union opposition is particularly powerful in states with Democrat-controlled legislatures including Maryland and New York. 

Online casinos stall as sportsbooks boom 

The difficult iGaming legalization effort comes after a relative explosion of legal sports betting. 

Thirty-eight states and Washington, D.C. have at least one regulated online or retail sportsbook less than six years after the Supreme Court struck down the federal wagering ban that had confided legal single-game sports betting to Nevada. Sportsbooks are live in politically red and blue states as well as those with small and large populations. 

Only four states – Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia – have fully competitive multi-operator iGaming markets. Delaware, Connecticut, and Rhode Island restrict iGaming platforms to two or fewer entrants. 

Online casino proponents hope the state-by-state trickle-down of sports betting will preview similar iGaming progression.  

Sports betting adopters tended to follow legalization in neighboring states. Should New York or Maryland, both of which border states with legal iGaming, approve online casinos, supporters hope this will continue pushing neighboring states to follow suit. 

Despite the political difficulties, these games will remain a focus for lawmakers seeking a potential tax revenue boost – and digital casino operators. Slots and table games generated nearly as much revenue for digital gaming operators as sportsbooks despite their far smaller reach.