Gambling in Rhode Island – The Ocean State

NETimeGambling.com is bringing you an updated series that will culminate with a huge announcement. This series of posts will look into each State as of today, in the summer of 2022. We started in Maine and worked our way to the coastline for our fifth State of the series. It was the first State in New England to have sports betting. So here is Gambling in Rhode Island – The Ocean State.

Between 1744 and 1843, placing bets on local lotteries was considered a normal part of civic duty. Eventually, the State’s conservative political elite sought to outlaw all forms of gambling, beginning with the passage of a state constitution in 1843. Nevertheless, gambling continued into the early 1900s until police started cracking down on illegal betting hubs.

That changed in 20th and 21st centuries when gambling became a favorite recreational activity. Rhode Island politicians saw the chance for additional revenue while noticing Connecticut’s gambling expansion enticing residents of the Ocean State to spend their Discretionary income at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.

Rhode Island is America’s smallest State by land (1,545 sq. miles) and one of the smallest by population (1.055m). Yet, despite its tiny stature, Rhode Island carved out a decent-sized gambling market. They currently have casinos with hotels and a lottery.

Interesting to note that Rhode Island is the only State in New England with a minimum gambling age of 18.

Rhode Island Gambling History

Before the 1990s

  • By 1947 the State had opened two racetracks – first Narragansett Park, then Lincoln Downs. The industry thrived until the mid-1970s, when both tracks closed.
  • One of the most beloved racehorses of all time, Seabiscuit, won his first race at Narragansett Park in 1935.
  • 1953 – A record crowd of 35,000 jam Lincoln Downs.
  • Newport Jai Alai started its first season in 1975.
  • 1976 – Final thoroughbred race run, Lincoln Downs is closed.
  • 1976 – Newport Jai Alai Fronton opens.
  • In 1977, Lincoln Downs was bought by Taunton Greyhound Association. The track was renamed Lincoln Greyhound Park and began its first greyhound racing season in June 1977.
  • On Labor Day 1978, Narragansett Park closes.

The 1990s

  • 1990 – Narragansett Tribe negotiates for casino gambling under Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
  • The 1990s – Lawmakers passed a budget that included provisions for certain off-track betting activities at Newport Jai Alai and Lincoln Greyhound Park.
  • 1992 – The inclusion of video lottery terminals (VLTs, actually slot machines, but class II) was approved at both facilities making full-fledged slot parlor “racinos. These VLTs were in response to Foxwoods Casino’s opening in CT.
  • 1994 – Voters reject Narragansett Tribe’s casino proposal.
  • In 1997, Lincoln Park was converted into a greyhound track.
  • 2003 – Newport Jai Alai ends, while the facility is renamed Newport Grand. The jai alai fronton operated from 1976 until 2003 (27 years.)
  • 2005 – Lincoln Downs is sold and renamed Twin River.
  • 2007 – Lincoln Greyhound Park turns into Twin River Casino with Vegas Style, class III gaming. Newport Grand soon follows, redesigning without Jai-Alai.
  • 2009 – Live Greyhound racing ends in Rhode Island at the Twin River facility. (aka, Lincoln Greyhound Park)

The Big Push Toward Full-fledged Casinos

  • 2012 – Passage of table gaming at Twin River Casino (but not Newport Grand Casino) officially ushered Rhode Island into the modern gambling age.
  • 2015 – Twin River adds a 16-table Poker Room
  • 2016 – Twin River Management acquires Newport Grand Casino and moves operations to a new casino in Tiverton, RI. with a hotel.
  • 2018
    • Twin River opens a new hotel.
    • Rhode Island approves and opens the first Sports Betting in New England at Twin Rivers and Tiverton casinos. Rhode Island’s state lottery oversees sports betting.
  • 2019 – Twin River adds mobile sports betting.

Related Post – Bally’s Is Rebranding, And Twin River Is Expanding

  • 2020 – Twin River Worldwide Holdings expands
    • owners of Twin River, Tiverton, and acquired eight other casinos in six states,
    • buys the Bally’s name, along with Bally’s Atlantic City.
    • The Rhode Island casinos’ names changed to Bally’s Twin River Lincoln and Ballys Tiverton.
  • 2021 – Bally’s Twin River starts new expansion
    • Forty thousand square feet of gaming floor and improved dining areas will be added.
    • Ballys will move much of the second-floor gaming to the first floor.
    • Possible second-floor amenities include a bowling alley, mini-golf course, and dining.
    • Added 50,000 square feet to the facility, including a new Korean-style spa.

The Casinos

There was a time when I would visit Twin River, play some VLT games, and then bet on greyhounds. I felt like I was transported to Florida in 1985 when Tribal casinos were Class II casinos, and the greyhound parks still existed. Rhode Island’s Casinos have come a long way.

Newport Grand

This facility could never make it out of its past. The Newport Grand building opened in June 1976 as a jai alai fronton, and slot machines became the main attraction in 1992. It was redesigned and renovated in 2008 as a slots parlor. But, when it came to adding table games in the two Rhode Island casinos, the residents of Newport said, “NO!” Only Twin River was able to have table games, leaving Newport Grand to melt away like the wicked witch.

Believe it or not, Newport Grand was known for its local entertainment and tribute bands. I ought to know – I performed there.

So, Twin River Management acquired Newport Grand and closed it in 2018. The gaming license was transferred to the Tiverton Casino Hotel three days later and opened to the public.

An interesting note – The Carpionato Group of Johnston purchased the Newport Grand property from Twin River and said the company plans to create a mix of retail, restaurants, office space, and perhaps a hotel on the site, but those plans are yet to materialize.

On To Tiverton Hotel Casino

The casino hotel that replaced the Newport Grand Casino was Twin River-Tiverton and owned by the same parent company, Twin River Management Group, Inc. (eventually aka Twin River Worldwide Holdings and finally Bally’s)

The 85,000-square-foot casino opened with under 1,000 slot machines, 32 table games, and a three-story 84-room hotel. There are also two bars, two sit-down restaurants (now one), and three food-court restaurants, including a 24-hour Dunkin Donuts.

The nearly 35,000 square feet of gaming include:

  • the latest slots, with a wide range of denominations,
  • table games with Hybrid Stadium Seats
  • a mix of live Blackjack, Roulette, Baccarat, Three Card Poker, Craps, Spanish 21, Let It Ride, and Pai Gow Poker,
  • a state-of-the-art simulcast theater in the Racebook and a brand new Sportsbook.

Related Post – Twin River Hotel Casino Expanding – an update including Tiverton Casino

Twin River Casino

Bally’s Twin River Lincoln Casino Resort, previously Twin River Casino Hotel, is owned and operated by Bally’s Corporation. Its history is covered throughout this article.

Bally’s Twin River has always felt under pressure to compete with casinos in Connecticut and, in the last three years, Massachusetts. It’s big enough, just not classy enough to be in the same “resort” league as Encore Boston Harbor or Connecticut’s two casinos.

It’s still a good place to gamble. And after the expansion, it will have added a projected 40,000 square feet to the gambling floor, a 10,000-square-foot spa, and what is described as an “enhanced food hall area.” It is already one of the largest casinos in the country and New England.

Casinos by the Numbers

The Lottery

In 1974, the Rhode Island Lottery was approved. The first ticket for “The Lot” game is sold for 50¢. It’s a weekly game with a top prize of $50,000. Lottery’s first drawing for The Lot game is held at the State House.

After introducing instant scratch games in the late 80s, a near tragedy occurred. An ice storm causes the Lottery Headquarters roof to collapse, with everyone leaving safely. However, sales were not interrupted, and within one day, the relocation of offices was complete. All services were available at temporary Headquarters in the Abacus Building, located at 1210 Pontiac Avenue in Cranston.

The Rhode Island Lottery is the largest voluntary source of income for the StStateRhode Island lottery offers a wide range of interstate and intrastate lotto games, including Mega Millions and Powerball, as well as keno, instant scratchers, and pull-tab games. Betters must purchase all tickets from land-based retailers. The lottery website doesn’t serve beyond providing Rhode Island residents with up-to-date general information and the latest lotto draw results.

Home Poker and Office Pools

In Rhode Island, section 11-19-20 of the stState’seneral Laws – which covers “Inducing others to visit gambling place” – expressly forbids private citizens from gambling amongst themselves. But unfortunately, it seems Rhode Island is rather serious about dissuading residents from getting together for a weekly poker game with the following law:

“Every person who shall, on any pretext whatsoever, invite, entice, persuade, or induce any other person to visit any house, room, or other place kept for gambling, with the intent that that other person shall at that place engage in 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.”

Sports Betting

Sports betting became legal in Rhode Island in May 2018, with Gov. Gina Raimondo signing it into law in June. Then in March 2019, lawmakers passed another bill that allowed online sports betting in the State.

Related Post – Sports Betting Arrives in New England – A Rhode Island Update

You can currently place wagers at the retail sportsbooks at two RI casinos — Bally’s Twin River Lincoln Casino Resort in Lincoln in the northern part of the state. Bally’s Tiverton Casino & Hotel in eastern RI is about a half-hour from Providence.

For online sports betting, there is just one sportsbook in the State, Sportsbook Rhode Island. The Rhode Island Lottery oversees the site, which IGT and William Hill power.

Latest RI Sports Betting News

The latest revenue reports show Bally’s Twin River Lincoln Casino Resort consistently accepting about two to three times the amount of bets as the sportsbook at Bally’s Tiverton Casino & Hotel. The difference has increased during football season when betting activity goes up.

Consumers in Rhode Island spent more than $500m on sports betting during the 2021-22 financial year, while the US state’s betting revenue amounted to $39.7m.

However, the Sportsbook Rhode Island online betting site consistently beats both retail locations. For example, in April 2022, the two retail sportsbooks saw a collective handle of about $14.7 million. During that same month, the online site accepted close to $25.5 million in wagers.

Robin “Binbin” Aubin