Published: January 21, 2018

Rhode Island budget plan bets on legalization of sports wagers

Gambling is already lucrative for state; governor’s budget plan looks for millions more.

PROVIDENCE — When Gov. Gina Raimondo unveiled her state budget for the next fiscal year on Thursday, it looked for more revenue from gambling by allowing sports betting.

For years Rhode Island’s state-sponsored gambling industry has generated more money per resident than any other state in the nation, even without sports betting.

Last year the state lottery system that includes Twin River Casino as well as traditional lottery games pulled in $872 million in wagers, according to figures from the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries. That’s $823 for each of the 1.06 million residents in the state.

By comparison, Massachusetts’ per capita lottery revenue was $741 last year, based on the Lotteries Association figures. (The figures do not include bets placed at private casinos like those in Connecticut, Atlantic City or Las Vegas.)

Whether Rhode Island still leads the nation in wagers per capita, as it did from 2003 to 2006, is not immediately clear, as the Lottery Association this year did not publish the national comparison it did in the past. In the 2003-2004 fiscal year, per capita state-sponsored gambling revenue in Rhode Island was $1,195.

Legalizing sports gambling is estimated to generate $23.5 million in state revenue on $815 million in gross wagering proceeds, according to Department of Revenue spokesman Paul Grimaldi.

Adding the estimated $815 million in sports betting wagers to the existing lottery take would bring state-sponsored gambling to around $1.7 billion.

Rhode Island’s gambling plan is contingent on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s challenge to a federal law preventing states that don’t currently allow sports betting from doing so.

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin is one of 18 state attorneys general to sign an amicus brief in favor of the New Jersey challenge.

Kilmartin spokeswoman Amy Kempe said his support in the case was not an endorsement of sports betting.

“The Attorney General joined the amici states because of the states’ rights issue,” Kempe wrote in an email. “The arguments in the amicus brief are consistent with the position the Attorney General has taken on other matters that bring into question states’ rights.”

At least one new item in Raimondo’s proposed budget appears dead on arrival: the Division of Motor Vehicles crackdown on state inspection sticker scofflaws.

The budget booked $2.6 million in new fee revenue for the year starting July 1, even though Department of Revenue officials Tuesday said they had no intention to start collecting it without action from the General Assembly.

Flash back to last fall, the DMV proposed using its new computer system to search for cars and trucks with expired inspection stickers. Vehicle owners flagged by the system would get a warning letter and eventually a registration suspension that could only be lifted with a $250 fee.

The fee had been authorized in state law since 2009, but could not be collected without the new computer.

But in response to a Journal story, lawmakers bashed the plan. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello called the fee “excessive” and asked Raimondo to hold off on collecting it, which she did.

Raimondo’s budget calls the $2.6 million in revenue from the fee a “placeholder.”

Larry Berman, spokesman for Mattiello, said Friday the speaker hadn’t decided what to do about the fee, but didn’t like the original plan now in the budget.

Raimondo’s budget freezes Medicaid reimbursements to hospitals and a payment that compensates hospitals for the lower rates Medicaid pays them compared with Medicare.

After reviewing the budget, the Hospital Association of Rhode Island said the cuts would cost hospitals in the state a combined $50 million from the state and federal government.

“The Hospital Association of Rhode Island and its members are disappointed the proposed budget includes hospital payment cuts,” Kayla Mudge, spokeswoman for the Hospital Association wrote in an email. “We look forward to working with the General Assembly and the Administration to help protect our hospitals, which provide nearly $7.6 billion in economic impact to our state.”

If state revenues come in better than expected this year, Raimondo has listed five ways she would like the money used:

— Restore $18.6 million in transfers from quasi-state agencies.

— Reduce the corporate minimum tax.

— Increase education funding for special needs, career training and transportation.

— Increase pay rates for home health and developmental disability workers.

— Allow nursing home payments to increase more than 1 percent.

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