Rhode Island is the smallest state in the nation, but it’s still inconvenient to have to drive to one of its two casinos to bet on sports.
The state Senate took a step toward enhancing the Rhode Island sports betting industry Wednesday by voting to allow mobile wagering within the state through the Twin Rivers casinos.
Following a 31-4 vote, the bill goes to the House. It is expected to get a vote later this month, House Communications Director Larry Berman told WPRI.
If the bill passes the House, it would go to Gov. Gina Raimondo‘s desk for a signature. Raimondo already showed her support by including $3 million in revenue from mobile RI sports betting in the budget.
The House also has a mobile wagering bill sponsored by Speaker Nicholas Mattiello.
How Rhode Island mobile betting would work
Last year, Rhode Island authorized sports betting at the state’s two Twin River casinos, located in Lincoln and Tiverton.
The bill contains a provision requiring in-person registration at a Twin River property for a mobile account. Bettors then would be able to wager from anywhere in the state, as verified by geofencing technology.
This is the method of registration used in Nevada. New Jersey has shown there are economic benefits in fully remote registration, though. The state generated about 80 percent of revenue from mobile in January.
Rhode Island sports betting generated $13 million in handle and more than $957,000 in revenue in December. The Boston area is roughly an hour-long drive from the Tiverton property, the closest option in New England.
Why mobile for RI sports betting?
Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, explained to WJAR the reasoning for adding mobile wagering:
“The new in-person sportsbook that opened in November has been very popular, with lines sometimes stretching 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.
“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.”
Rhode Island sports betting limited to casinos
WPRI indicated that during a floor debate, one of the no voters voiced objection to limiting mobile wagering to existing casinos.
“We would be giving a monopoly on online sports gambling to an existing business, Twin River, creating a monopoly in the state of Rhode Island,” said Sen. Sam Bell. “And this is America, we are supposed to be a free market economy where we have free market competition.”
Rhode Island sports betting runs through the state’s lottery per last year’s bill, in part to avoid constitutional restrictions on gaming expansion.
When Rhode Island authorized legal sports betting last year, some lawmakers suggested an expansion to mobile would require voter approval.
To get around that, the new bill requires that servers be located on the hosting facility’s premises. That provision is notable in light of confusion caused by the new Wire Act opinion from the Department of Justice.