Eight states now offer legal sports betting, after Rhode Island’s first regulated sportsbook opened on Monday at the Twin River Casino in Lincoln.
The Ocean State legalized sports betting back in June after Governor Gina Raimondo signed a budget bill which included $23.5 million in anticipated revenue. The move came one month after a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court repealed the 26-year old federal ban on sports betting outside of Nevada.
Rhode Island joins Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania in taking advantage of the Court’s decision.
Officially dubbed Sportsbook Rhode Island, the Twin Rivers Lincoln venue opened at 3 p.m. local time to welcome the state’s betting public.
A pair of local lawmakers who collaborated to spearhead legal sports betting in Rhode Island – speaker of the state house Nicholas Mattiello and state senate president Dominick Ruggerio – were on hand to place the ceremonial first wagers.
Ruggerio gave a brief speech, telling the assembled crowd that he couldn’t wait another minute to back his favorite teams with a legal bet:
“I’ve waited 40 years for this… Let’s get it on.”
Ruggerio put $20 on the Houston Texans (-6.5) to down the Tennessee Titans on Monday Night Football, while Mattiello fired his $20 flier on the Boston Celtics (+2) over the New Orleans Pelicans.
Both bets happened to be winners for local charity by night’s end, as Ruggerio and Mattiello pledged any profits to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank and the Cranston Animal Shelter, respectively.
Ruggerio later told the Providence Journal that Rhode Island sports bettors are now protected by reputable operators and strict regulation:
“Obviously, this is a good issue, because from the information I get, 90 percent of the people who wager, wager illegally.
So, I think this is a great way to capture the money that’s going out illegally and also help us with what we have to do with state government.”
Mattiello echoed those sentiments, telling the newspaper that Rhode Islanders have long been interested in legal sports betting alternatives:
“I think there’s a lot of interest in gaming with our citizens.
They’re going to get the opportunity to do it legally for the first time.”
Sports wagering is only permitted within Rhode Island’s two casinos – Twin Rivers Lincoln and Twin Rivers Tiverton – with the latter location scheduled to open its onsite sportsbook in December.
In an exclusive partnership codified by state law, both facilities receive backend support from International Game Technology (IGT), while William Hill U.S. – the American arm of leading U.K. bet shop William Hill – provides bookmaking and risk management.
Rhode Island’s government will receive the lion’s share of revenue through a revenue sharing agreement which essentially levies a 51 percent effective tax on sportsbook win. The IGT/William Hill U.S. union receives 32 percent of revenue to split, while Twin River Worldwide Holdings retains the remaining 17 percent.
Legal sports betting was scheduled to go live on October 1 – in time for the lucrative Major League Baseball (MLB) playoffs and the early going of National Football League (NFL) regular season play – but regulatory testing delays forced a late November launch. As a result, the Rhode Island Revenue Estimating Conference slashed its initial revenue projections by more than half to $11.5 million by June 30 of 2019.
As of now, legal sports betting is restricted to the two brick and mortar sportsbook venues, but Ruggerio and Mattiello are keen on integrating online options.
Speaking with the Associated Press, Ruggerio offered several reasons for the state to explore every technological resource in search of additional revenue:
“A lot of young people, millennials, are getting into sports gaming. DraftKings, fantasy football, things of that nature.
There is an interest and I think we can pursue that interest by offering mobile gaming.”
To that end, Ruggerio plans to introduce an online wagering expansion when the legislative session resumes in January – an effort Mattiello vowed to support:
“If his proposal enhances the gaming experience for Rhode Islanders while providing additional revenue for the state, it is certainly an idea worthy of a thorough review.”