By signing a sprawling budget bill into law on June 22, Governor Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island legalized sports betting throughout the Ocean State.
Assembly Bill 7200-A, a $9.3 billion spending package covering the 2019 fiscal year, included $23.5 million in expected revenue derived from two regulated sportsbooks.
The pair of sportsbooks will be located within the Twin River casino venues in Tiverton and Lincoln, and under the new law, legal wagering will begin on October 1.
The tax scheme devised by lawmakers will send 51 percent of revenue to Rhode Island state coffers, while the Twin River casinos will collect 17 percent of the take.
The remaining 32 percent of revenue will be diverted to International Game Technology (IGT), a U.K.-based gaming industry provider that maintains an office in Rhode Island’s capital of Providence. IGT will maintain the business side of the sportsbooks operated by the Rhode Island Lottery.
Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-4), who serves as president of the state senate, issued a press release praising the sports betting law for sending the majority of revenue to Rhode Island’s interests:
“(The budget) maintains the progress we have made in lowering taxes to improve our business climate while also investing in economic development, and it provides Rhode Island with the highest percentage of revenue in the nation for sports wagering.”
The 51 percent tax on sports betting establishes Rhode Island as the strictest state in the nation in that regard, dwarfing the 36 percent rate imposed by Pennsylvania’s 2017 gaming expansion law. But as Pennsylvania has not yet moved forward with implementing sports betting regulations, Rhode Island will become the first state to experiment with such an exorbitant tax on sportsbooks.
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D-15) also provided a public statement celebrating Rhode Island’s ambitious tax:
“I think it is a very good deal.
We are in sports gaming earlier than other states and we have a better percentage for the taxpayers than any state that’s doing it right now.”
Raimondo’s fellow Democrats were understandably pleased with the bill, but House minority leader Patricia Morgan (R-26) told local media outlets that the budget relies too heavily on taxing “vice” industries like gambling and medical marijuana:
“There’s desperation that I see in these numbers.
Somehow all of the sports betting and the marijuana are supposed to come together and balance our budget, on a hope and a prayer.
We need to be more responsible at budgeting.”
Other critics of the onerous tax rate include American Gaming Association (AGA) spokeswoman Sara Slane, who told Reuters that legal sportsbooks will be disadvantaged while competing with underground bookies:
“High tax rates hinder the legal market’s ability to compete with shady, illegal operators that don’t pay taxes back to the state.”
Chris Grove, a senior gaming industry analyst for PlayUSA.com, echoed those sentiments while speaking to Reuters, warning that a heavy tax burden will disincentivize casinos from promoting their new sports betting products:
“The relatively small share allotted for casinos means that those casinos have little incentive to market the product, which will dampen revenue potential.
For now, sports betting in the state will be limited to the two Twin River brick and mortar casinos. But according to Rhode Island Department of Revenue spokesman Paul Grimaldi, mobile and online betting could be integrated at some point:
“We wanted to start small and make sure we have the operational system down pat in the casinos before we explore online or mobile.”
The Department of Revenue oversees the state lottery, and thus has direct jurisdiction over the management of sports betting in the state.