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Bally’s wants the state to double how much high rollers can borrow at its R.I. casinos. • Rhode Island Current

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A proposal that would double how much money high roller patrons at Bally’s Twin River Lincoln and Tiverton casinos can borrow from the house has support from Rhode Island Senate President Dominick Ruggerio.

The legislation introduced earlier this month to increase the maximum line of credit Bally’s can offer its customers from $50,000 to $100,000 has also drawn no opposition from the head of the Substance Use and Mental Health Leadership Council of Rhode Island.

But at least one researcher who studies gambling is worried about the companion bills sponsored in the House by Rep. Gregory Costantino, a Lincoln Democrat, and Sen. Frank Ciconne III, a Providence Democrat, in the Senate. The Senate Committee on Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs heard Ciccone’s bill on May 15. Costantino’s bill is scheduled to be heard by the House Finance Committee Thursday afternoon.

Since 2014, when table games were first introduced at Twin River, the maximum credit cap has been at $50,000. The state of Massachusetts has no limit on lines of credit. Connecticut’s two tribal-run casinos, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, also have no borrowing cap.

Patrick Kelly, a professor of accountancy at Providence College who studies gambling, told Rhode Island Current that raising the credit limit to $100,000 might lead to an individual chasing losses, which could contribute to problem gambling.  

“If that $50,000 is now at $100,000, they could just go through that original threshold without maybe reflecting or having that pause that might be helpful to them,” Kelly said in an interview Monday. “We can always argue what’s an appropriate limit — but the person doesn’t pause gambling until they hit that limit.”

Bally’s Vice President of Government Relations Elizabeth Suever told senators at the May 15 committee hearing that extending the credit limit would be “an amenity for our players that play very high limits.”

“They don’t want to be carrying that amount of cash on their person as they’re coming and going from the casino,” she said.

To qualify for the proposed $100,000, Suever said patrons will have to file a credit application, provide two forms of identification, undergo bank account checks and credit history evaluations, and get their gaming history verified at all of the regional casinos.

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“Obviously we’re not interested in extending lines of credit to those individuals who will not pay it back,” Suever testified. “We’re in the business of providing revenue to the state of Rhode Island.” 

Credit would not be issued for Bally’s newly-operational iGaming offerings, Suever said.

John Tassoni, Jr., a former state senator who now heads the Substance Use and Mental Health Leadership Council of Rhode Island, a nonprofit advocacy organization whose members provide addiction recovery and treatment services, supported Bally’s request. He called the Providence-based casino giant “a good corporate citizen” and highlighted a $600,000 donation Bally’s made in 2022 to the International Center for Responsible Gaming to support research on gambling among young adults.

“Yes they’re a corporation that needs to make money, but they’re also cognizant of people that get themselves in trouble,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

Tassoni, who also serves on the board of directors for the Rhode Island Council on Problem Gambling, said his concerns when it comes to increasing problem gambling are with third-party sportsbooks such as Draft Kings and FanDuel, which he said are meant to entice young men.

“It’s like every other damn ad is their ad,” he said.

But it’s not young patrons Kelly is worried will go into debt if Bally’s is allowed to increase its credit limit. “What I’m particularly concerned about are baby boomers,” he said.

Boomers, Kelly said, are the demographic most likely to have the kind of income to qualify for Bally’s extended credit — especially as more start to retire and have their homes paid off. Should the General Assembly approve the credit increase, he said retirees with gambling problems might take out a mortgage on their home or dip into their pension or 401(k) to qualify for more funds.

“And those people will survive any credit check,” Kelly said. “For me, in Rhode Island, I think $50,000’s a good number — actually $25,000 is a better number.”

Senate spokesperson Greg Paré said Ciccone and Ruggerio’s legislation was introduced at the request of Bally’s “to keep them on par with competition from casinos in Massachusetts.”

“The Senate President supports the bill because it helps the casinos strengthen their position in a very competitive gaming industry,” Paré added.

It is unclear how many casino patrons have hit the $50,000 limit. “Bally’s does not disclose the number of players at various credit limits due to proprietary reasons,” company spokesperson Patti Doyle told Rhode Island Current Tuesday.

Ciccone and Ruggerio’s bill would also authorize the state’s Department of Business Regulation and Rhode Island Lottery to negotiate a new debt leverage ratio with Bally’s — something Suever said would allow the company to take out additional credit as it constructs a new casino in Chicago. Additionally, the legislation changes the way promotional points Bally’s can utilize annually.

The Senate committee held the bill for further study, as is standard practice when legislation is first heard.

Ciccone and Ruggerio’s legislation received no written or additional verbal testimony during the May 15 committee hearing. The Rhode Island Lottery has no stance on the legislation, said spokesperson Paul Grimaldi.

If you or somebody you know is dealing with gambling issues, contact Problem Gambling Services, which can be reached 24/7 at (401) 499-2472.

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