Connecticut, Massachusetts have also taken a hard look at sports betting
Legal Sports Report

Could Rhode Island Legalize Online Sports Betting In 2018? ‘Absolutely,’ Key Lawmaker Says

RI sports betting
Rhode Island is going to consider the possibility of legalizing sports betting next year — possibly even online wagering.

Top RI lawmaker talks sports betting

Rhode Island state Sen. William Conley — the chair of the state’s Senate Finance Committee — is bullish on the prospect of being able to offer sports wagering in his state.

That optimism comes from him and other analysts because of the possibility of New Jersey prevailing in its sports betting case in the US Supreme Court. A decision in the case — expected in the first half of 2018 — could mean that other states could legalize sports gambling.

Here’s Conley talking with WPRI:

Here’s part of the interview, in the context of talking about the NJ sports betting case:

Reporter: And you’d be open to that, if the states do prevail, you’d be open to online gambling here in Rhode Island.

Conley: Absolutely, I do think that the Senate president thinks that that’s something that we should look at seriously, and that it will bring in revenue.

Conley also offered that it’s possible the state could pass legislation next session.

Online gambling, or just online sports betting?

The report above appears to conflate the wider industry of online gambling with the narrower sliver of just online sports betting.

It’s not at all clear that Conley and other state lawmakers have an appetite for a full suite of online gambling products, or just sports betting. Rhode Island is already free to legalize online casino (slots, table games) and poker, should it choose to do so; the SCOTUS case has nothing to do with that. New Jersey, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Delaware have already legalized online gambling.

Rhode Island, in the past, has not been a serious candidate to legalize online gambling, but it remains at least a long-shot to do so.

How would Rhode Island sports betting work?

There are two obvious paths that the state could take in legalizing sports betting:

  • Hand over operation of sports betting to the state lottery.
  • Run sports betting via the state’s casinos: Twin River and Newport Grand.

Despite the fact that Rhode Island is a small state, legalizing sports betting would definitely move the needle there. While NJ and PA have sports betting laws in place, no one in New England is ready to immediately roll out land-based or online sports gambling.

Connecticut has taken action on the path to legalizing sports betting, but it still must take more steps to do so. Massachusetts is also researching the issue.

It could be critical for those states’ casinos to move quickly on the sports betting front, lest they lose market share. The ability to offer sports betting could quickly ramp up traffic for any state’s casinos — or at least keep them from losing customers to casinos in other states that will have sports betting.

Dustin Gouker
- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner.