While the state of Pennsylvania prepares to launch legal sports betting this week, the pause button has been pressed on Rhode Island sports betting.
The nation’s smallest state passed sports betting legislation back in June a little more than one month after the U.S. Supreme Court repealed the federal ban on sportsbooks outside of Nevada. But while lawmakers worked quickly to put Rhode Island sports betting on the books, state gaming regulators are taking the slow lane toward implementation.
The two commercial casinos operating in the Ocean State – Twin River and Tiverton – were scheduled to launch brick and mortar sportsbook facilities on October 1. The companies contracted to oversee sports betting platform design and risk management policies, IGT and William Hill U.S. respectively, weren’t ready to roll software out by then.
In an email sent to industry outlet Sports Handle this week, Paul Grimaldi – who serves as Rhode Island Department of Revenue chief of information and public relations – explained that internal testing has yet to be completed:
“Our expectation is for sports betting to begin around Thanksgiving.
I cannot give you a specific date today as it is dependent on the completion of testing of the IGT/William Hill sports betting software. They released the software to the Division of Lottery on November 5.
We expect two weeks (give or take) for completion of the testing. The sportsbook will start taking bets once the software is certified.”
The delay only puts the nascent Rhode Island sports betting industry further behind the eight ball.
The state has already missed out on the most high-volume sports betting season, as baseball’s postseason, NBA opening week, and more than half of the NFL regular season have come and gone.
Accordingly, the $23.5 million in revenue projection added to the 2018-19 fiscal year budget has since been slashed to $11.5 million, per the Rhode Island Revenue Estimating Conference.
Rhode Island Lottery director Gerald S. Aubin issued a statement explaining the importance of projected sports betting revenue in mitigating the state’s budget woes:
“The facilities, both Twin River and Tiverton, are tremendous revenue generators in Rhode Island. We rely heavily on the revenue stream.
Being first to market (in sports betting) is very similar (to offering table games).
It gives us the opportunity to attract a new customer base, new demographics, which are essential for us to continue to grow.”
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D-4) was more direct in his criticism of the continued postponements:
“I am frustrated with the delay in the implementation of sports gaming, and hopeful that it will be available in the very near future.
Sports gaming provides the state with revenue that offsets reliance on taxes to support essential state services, such as education and fixing roads and bridges.
I support expansion of sports gaming as an entertainment option for Rhode Islanders, and my staff is currently researching mobile gaming as we prepare for the 2019 session.”
Ruggerio’s inclusion of online and mobile wagering options is encouraging for local bettors, but for now, the Rhode Island sports betting scene will be limited to the two books at Twin River and Tiverton.
Both venues are owned by the same parent company, however, and with only one licensed oddsmaker permitted to operate in the state, local bettors will lack a competitive market.
Mike Barlow – senior vice president of property operations for Twin Rivers and Tiverton – told local media outlets that he expects Rhode Island to become a regional sports betting hub:
“I see folks from Connecticut, from Massachusetts all coming. New Hampshire. Why not?
We’re the only game in town.”
It is true that Connecticut and Massachusetts, the two states directly bordering Rhode Island, haven’t moved forward with sports betting bills of their own. Even so, nearby New Jersey is home to a thriving industry, Delaware offers sports betting via its state-operated racetracks, and Pennsylvania’s first sportsbook is expected to open this week.