July 21, 2024

Rhode Island is home to the Bally’s Corporation, which holds a monopoly on casino operations in the state. The 2024 legislative session saw the gaming firm dealt winning legislative hands before the General Assembly adjourned for the year last week.

Rhode Island casino smoking Bally's
Rhode Island Rep. Teresa Tanzi in 2022 poses with casino smoking opponents in the Providence capital. The evening before the Rhode Island General Assembly adjourned for 2024, Tanzi’s bill to force Bally’s Lincoln and Tiverton to go smoke-free passed a House committee. (Image: Boston Globe)

Bally’s brass continued to stress that forcing their casino floors to go entirely smoke-free would devastate gaming revenue. That, they claim, would result in job layoffs and less tax money for the state.

Bally’s Twin River Lincoln and Bally’s Tiverton facilitate slot-like video lottery terminals (VLTs) on the Rhode Island Lottery’s behalf. The state collects roughly 60% of the gross income.

Legislation to force the two casinos to extinguish indoor tobacco smoking failed yet again in the Providence capital. But the evening before the state Senate and House of Representatives adjourned for 2024, members of a House committee provided hope for casino smoking opponents that 2025 will finally be the year gaming floors go smoke-free.

Ceremonial Vote

House Bill 7500 was introduced in February by Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-South Kingstown), a former smoker who has been championing efforts in Providence to extend the state’s Public Health and Workplace Safety Act that banned indoor smoking in most businesses and public places to the Bally’s properties. Nine Democrats co-sponsored the partisan measure.

HB 7500 was directed to the House Finance Committee where the statute was considered on May 3. The committee members, despite being controlled 13-2 by Democrats, motioned to hold the bill “for further study” of the economic impacts such an enactment would create for the Lincoln and Tiverton casinos.

While no study was completed, 10 Democratic members of the Finance Committee voted unanimously on the evening of June 13 to pass the measure. The symbolic gesture, Tanzi said, “shows we’re fully aware of everything [casino] workers have been saying.”

The Rhode Island chapter of CEASE — Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects — though disappointed that 2024 repeated history in not forcing the Bally’s casinos to usher smokers outside, acknowledged that the committee vote could provide momentum to get a casino smoking bill over the finish line in 2025.

Bally’s Corp. shareholders in May rejected a proposal from an investor that requested the company conduct a comprehensive review of how business would be impacted if all all of its casinos were to eliminate indoor smoking. Bally’s had encouraged shareholders to vote against the “unwarranted and unreasonable” pitch.

Bally’s Wins

Along with retaining smoking at its two casinos, Bally’s successfully lobbied state lawmakers to allow the Lincoln and Tiverton casinos to extend higher credit lines to VIPs and high rollers. At the request of the casino company, Sen. President Dominick Ruggerio (D-North Providence) led Senate Bill 3040 through the legislature.

The bill would allow Bally’s to issue $100K in cash to qualified players, up from the current $50K cap. The Senate signed off on the measure in early June and the House approved the statute on June 11.

SB 3040 has since been forwarded to Gov. Daniel McKee’s (D) desk. The governor hasn’t yet acted on the casino credit amendment but is expected to allow the measure to become law.

The post Rhode Island Casino Smoking Opponents Hope to Clear the Air in 2025 appeared first on Casino.org.

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