Rhode Island Becomes Latest State To Approve Online Sports Betting

Online and mobile device sports betting was officially approved by Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo’s signature on Monday, though it’s still up in the air if the state will provide an app any earlier than November.

The bill was signed on Monday by Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo — despite earlier threats by Republican leaders to go to court to force a statewide referendum.

During the debate, legislators were divided over expanding sports betting from brick-and-mortar casinos to online. The entire premise rested on what Democratic leaders had previously argued: that voters legalized sports betting when they approved table games for the Twin River casinos in two separate referendums in 2012 and 2016.

Requirements Under New Law

Under the new expansion, users will have to be located somewhere within Rhode Island to take part and will have to sign up at casinos.

To avoid legal issues related to the Wire Act — which bans any form of interstate sports betting — wagers are received on a “server-based gaming system” located at Rhode Island casinos.  The gaming system includes all hardware, software, and communications devices that provides an electronic platform for placing and accepting sports wagers.

The bill also precludes free play provided by the casinos.

Popularity in Question

Last November, Rhode Island started sports betting at Twin River, but it has been a slow start. But Democratic state legislators continue todefend the initiative.

“The new in-person sportsbook … has been very popular, with lines sometimes stretching out the doors,” Sen. Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-4th Dist.), president of the Rhode Island Senate, said in a statement. He adds it is enjoyed by both state residents and visitors from outside of Rhode Island who patronize casinos.

“I can envision a group of friends from out-of-state spending an evening out in a local establishment where they can both watch the game and place a wager,” he added.

For in-person sports betting, Rhode Island receives 51 percent of winnings, which is among the highest US rates.

“This revenue, along with the revenue we anticipate from an expansion to mobile gaming [which will also be at 51 percent] is a tremendous benefit to the state,” House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, another Democrat, said in a statement.

He says that without legal sports betting, money spent on illegal sports gaming would not allow for a cut for the state.

“When you consider that up to 97 percent of sports wagering is done illegally, it makes good sense for the state to increase its revenue by providing an entertainment that can be done safely and legally,” Mattiello said.

A proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year beginning on July 1 estimates the state will get $30 million from sports betting, including $3 million in new revenue from online betting, according to The Providence Journal.

It remains uncertain which service providers will be engaged by the state for the online sports betting.

The Rhode Island Lottery currently uses IGT and William Hill US for sports betting at casinos, so the two firms could be selected to develop a new app, or it could be put out for competitive bid.

Now, IGT and William Hill receive 31 percent of sports betting revenue from the two casinos, and Twin River receives 16 percent.

Five other states have approved some form of online or mobile sports betting, though it is not under way in some locations yet, and other states are considering its approval.

Rhode Island was one of seven states to unfurl sports betting last year after the US Supreme Court in May rejected a ban that had been put into place by the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA) in 1992.

Once available, the app will access pro and college sports offerings provided through casinos in Lincoln and Tiverton.

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