Rhode Island Online Sports Betting Bill Signed into Law

Rhode Island Online Sports Betting Bill Signed into Law

After garnering overwhelming support from the state legislature, an online sports betting legalization bill in Rhode Island was signed into law Monday, setting up another state with mobile wagering options.

Lawmakers announced Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo had signed the bill March 25 after fellow Democrats in both the state Senate and House of Representatives approved the measure during Rhode Island’s 2019 legislative session. Championed by leaders in both chambers, the bill was designed to bolster the state’s fledgling sports betting market, one of only a handful currently operational.

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said in a statement the new online and mobile offerings will complement the state’s two sportsbooks, located at each Twin Rivers casino location, both of which he said have lines that sometimes stretch out the doors.

“It is an entertainment option that many Rhode Islanders enjoy, and visitors from outside the state are also flocking to our gaming facilities to place their wagers on sporting events,” Ruggerio said. “Expanding to mobile gaming would provide a convenient option for those wishing to enjoy this form of entertainment, and open up the economic benefits beyond the walls of Twin River.”

Eligible residents and visitors within state lines will soon be able to place bets through a government-regulated site via internet capable devices including smartphones and laptops, though more details about the site have yet to be announced.

Likewise, no timeline was released for when the regulated mobile wagering market will go online, though it typically takes several months to finalize regulations and open such an offering. Still, Rhode Island should become just the fifth state with online betting.

Nevada and New Jersey take mobile wagers now, and West Virginia is expected to take bets again sometime this year, following the resolution over a conflict with its lone betting site and its affiliates. Pennsylvania is also expected to launch its mobile offerings in the coming months.

Officials Look to Bolster Lagging Revenue

Rhode Island was one of the first states to legalize sports betting, but a delayed launch, limited offerings and an exorbitant tax rate have hindered New England’s first legal wagering market.

Pushed by Raimondo as part of the state’s 2018 budgeting process, legal sports betting was approved by the legislature shortly after the Supreme Court decision to strike down the federal ban in May of that year. Though one of the first handful of states to do so, officials passed additional restraints that have hurt revenue potential, especially compared to other states.

The legalization measure imposed a 51 percent tax rate, the highest by far of any jurisdiction taking bets in America. Most of the eight states accepting wagers charge around 10 percent while Pennsylvania, with the second-highest tax, charges an effective 36 percent rate.

Those inordinately high fees dissuaded nearly all would-be bidders to run sports betting, which is already one of the lowest margin gaming offerings for purveyors to being with.

That left only one bidder, European gaming giant IGT, which already had a long-standing relationship with the state after years operating its lottery. Further regulatory procedures delayed the market all the way until November, after the crux of football season, which is historically the most profitable time of the year for sportsbooks.

Even then, the state’s lone casinos, Twin River facilities in Tiverton and Lincoln, were able to take bets, and then only within their physical properties.

Because of these limitations, it wasn’t surprising revenue projections fell significantly short of initial goals. This year’s budget reportedly calls for $3 million from online gaming, which may be difficult to reach even in an ideal scenario in a low-population state like Rhode Island.

Bill Requires In-Person Registration

A further requirement could also hinder the market. Rhode Island will be only the second state after Nevada to require in-person registration before a player can play an online game. Players will need to first sign-up to play online at either the Tiverton or Lincoln facility.

Gaming industry officials warn this could dissuade would-be legal players from joining the regulated sites and lead them to remain with illegal offshore options. And unlike Nevada, which has far and away the most gaming facilities per capita of any state, Rhode Island’s two isolated locations could pose a burdensome trek for players.

Still, Rhode Island has now become the first New England state to approve online sports betting. As neighbors like Connecticut and Massachusetts consider similar measures of their own, it nevertheless gives the Ocean State a leg up on regional competition.

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