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While the majority of US states struggle to pass sports betting legislation, lawmakers in Rhode Island have now done it twice in consecutive years.
The House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill that will authorize statewide online and mobile wagering. RI sports betting first became legal late last year, but implementation has so far been restricted to in-person betting at the two Twin River casinos.
As passed, the bill will allow Twin River to deploy a sports betting website and mobile app for eligible bettors anywhere within Rhode Island.
There were no major bumps in the legislative road along the way. The Senate first considered the bill on Feb. 6 and passed an amended version one week later. The measure then charted a similar course through the lower chamber, culminating in a lopsided 64-8 vote on Tuesday.
Despite the support, some lawmakers maintain reservations about the legality of online sports betting under existing statutes.
Rep. Blake Filippi is among the skeptics, and he made a motion to add an intermediate step to the process. His amendment would have asked the RI Supreme Court to opine on the constitutionality of the legislation — specifically on whether online betting constitutes an unlawful “extension of gambling activities.”
Members of the House defeated the proposed amendment by a vote of 62-10.
Those with strong memories might remember that Rhode Island was the first state to consider sports betting after the US Supreme Court repealed PASPA in May 2018. The very next day, lawmakers cemented the pillars for RI sports betting during a pair of committee hearings.
Although it wasn’t part of the final bill, mobile wagering was part of that hearing. So was DraftKings.
Sarah Koch, the company’s assistant director of government affairs, visited Providence to testify on behalf of what was, at the time, a DFS company with sports betting aspirations. Here’s what Koch had to say about mobile betting:
“… In most case law the precedent shows that what matters is where the bet is accepted — not necessarily where the bet is placed. So as long as the casino is accepting the bet from their location, they could accept them from anywhere within the state of Rhode Island.”
Lawmakers were unconvinced at the time, but the legal opinion DraftKings presented seems to have swayed the minds of some. The new bill essentially codifies the logic Koch laid out. Here’s an excerpt:
… Wagers are accepted by a server-based gaming system located at the premises of a hosting facility authorized to accept sports wagers and administer payoffs of winning sports wagers; all such wagers shall be deemed to be placed and accepted at the premises of a hosting facility.
Despite DraftKings’ initial interest, the door to the Rhode Island market has closed.
The RI Lottery administers sports betting, and licensure is exclusive to the Twin River properties. They use a combination of IGT and William Hill to power retail sports betting operations, and there’s no reason to expect that relationship to change under the expanded law.
Although the bill allows wagering anywhere within the state, it also requires in-person registration at a casino. It will not facilitate entry for any external brands, including the likes of DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook.
There is no apparent timeline for mobile expansion either — just yet.