Rhode Island Gambling Laws

Rhode Island Poker Laws

Is Online Poker / Gambling Legal in Rhode Island?

As the smallest state in the United States by land area, you might expect Rhode Island's gambling industry would be relatively small. You would be right. Several gambling interests do exist, so I'll cover each of these in detail. The state of Rhode Island allows lottery games, sweepstakes, and greyhound racing inside its boundaries.

Because of the small infrastructure, don't assume Rhode Island politicians and lawmakers are anti-gambling. In late December of 2011, Rhode Island State Lottery Director Gerald Aubin went on record lauding the US Department of Justice for reversing its own anti-gambling position on certain forms of online gambling and suggested the state might explore an expansion of their own state lottery to the Internet. If any US states join the online gambling industry in fighting the ban on online gambling in many parts of the United States (something often championed by the USA's DoJ), it's going to be small states like Rhode Island with a progressive background who need or want online gambling to help them find new sources of revenue.

Understanding Rhode Island's Poker Laws

Poker receives one of the strangest legal treatments we've ever seen in Rhode Island. Thanks to a decision by the State Supreme Court of Rhode Island, poker is considered a lottery per state law. Rhode Island law prohibits lotteries, so - by extension - the state also prohibits playing poker.

That's certainly not a unique situation for poker players. States like Ohio and Pennsylvania also outlaw nearly all forms of gambling, but then also create a number of legal loopholes that provide residents and visitors with legal ways to gamble. Rhode Island has some similar exceptions, but here's the rub: none of them, as far as we can tell, result in a clearly legal way to play poker.

For example, commercial gambling is legal (and expanding) in Rhode Island, but you won't find any live poker rooms at the state's commercial gambling properties. There's also no obvious space in Rhode Island state law for home poker games, as the popular "social gambling" exception found on the books of states like California is absent from Rhode Island code.

The final hope for Rhode Island poker fans - charitable gambling - also disappoints. Yes, there is legal charitable gambling in Rhode Island, but it does not extend beyond raffles and bingo. 

Are Charitable Gambling Events Legal in Rhode Island?

The Rhode Island State Police have a "Charitable Gaming Unit" which enforces the charitable gaming laws in Rhode Island. Sections Section 11-19-1 (Promotion of Lotteries) and Section 11-19-41 (General Law) are the statutes which largely define these laws, as well as the duties and responsibilities of the state police units in these matters. If you follow the link I gave, you'll be able to see a definition of charitable gaming as the Rhode Island SP see it, financial reports on bingo games in the state, raffle reports, and how to obtain authorization to run a charitable bingo parlor. 

Rhode Island Legal Commercial Licensing, Racing, and Athletics

The "Commercial Licensing and Racing & Athletics" program is a part of the Rhode Island Department of Business, but this office regulates greyhound racing inside Rhode Island. You'll see these kind of duties combined in smaller states, where they most certainly are separated in the large or populous states like California, Texas, New York, or Florida.

This Rhode Island Racing & Athletics authority regulates the gambling which takes place in the state's two legal greyhound racing park: Newport Grand racino in Newport, Rhode Island. Newport Grand is both a dogtrack and casino, so it would qualify as a racino. This facility has 1,070 video lottery terminals. The Twin River Dog Track & Racino located in Lincoln is the other racino in Rhode Island. This gambling establishment has 4,676 video lottery machines, along with 22 bingo seats and the race track.

While Rhode Island doesn't have many gambling venues, you could say the state's gambling operations are accessible to a larger percentage of its citizenry than many states with more facilities, due to the size of the state and the number of gambling machines available. When we surveyed the gambling laws of Rhode Island, I noticed that their racino in Portland had 10 gaming machines, compared to the nearly 4,700 found at the Twin River Racino. I'm sure part of that disparity is that Rhode Island has other gambling interests, such as their Native American casinos, while Rhode Island’s dog tracks are some of the only games in town. If Rhode Island didn't have a permissive racino system, their citizens would simply cross the border into Connecticut and enjoy gambling at the world famous Foxwoods Casino or the original Mohegan Sun.

Learn About Other State Laws

Are State Lotteries Legal in Rhode Island?

The state lottery is the only legal dispenser of lotto tickets in the state, though local raffles are allowed, with the proper authorization. Lottery games which the law allows include video lottery machines, pull table games, and instant scratch-off tickets. Among the lottery games you'll find in Rhode Island are the Numbers Game, Kneo, Wild Money, and Winners Circle. Rhode Island is part of both of the big multi-state lottery agreements, so Mega Million and Powerball lottery tickets are sold in the state.