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The one small corner of New England with legalized sports betting is working to make a little more elbow room for itself.
Under the provisions of an updated law enacted in March, Rhode Island sports betting is poised to bring its regulated industry online and into the modern era. Stakeholders told LSR this week that they expect the final approvals in place in time for next week’s start of the NFL season.
Chief of Information and Public Relations Paul Grimaldi provided an official update on behalf of the RI Department of Revenue:
“The mobile sports wagering app is being tested by an independent, third-party testing laboratory. Because the app is in the testing phase, an exact timeframe or date by which mobile sports wagering will begin is uncertain.
“The hope is to have the mobile sports wagering begin on or before the National Football League season begins on September 5, 2019; but that date is subject to change based on testing results.”
Currently, 12 states offer legal sports betting, and Rhode Island seems anxious to join the smaller online group of five. According to Grimaldi, an initial soft launch could happen as early as Thursday.
Rhode Island sports betting will operate under the same framework as retail betting, right down to the supply chain.
The RI Lottery administers and operates the system, relying on IGT and William Hill to power the platform and manage the risk. They’re the biggest beneficiaries of sports betting, keeping a combined 83% of associated revenue between them.
Twin River Casino gets the other 17% in exchange for floorspace inside its two casinos along the Massachusetts border.
Revenue for all involved has underwhelmed since launch, but it should improve with the addition of mobile sports betting.
IGT and William Hill will deploy a branded app for both properties, available throughout the state with one caveat. While the new law does allow wagering beyond the brick-and-mortar realm, it still requires in-person account registration. Bettors must stop through Lincoln or Tiverton to sign up and unlock statewide access.
The two properties are fairly accessible, at least, about an hour from Boston and slightly farther from Hartford.
If sports betting were a Rhode Island football team, it barely broke even last year.
Sportsbooks opened to uninspiring action in November, and public trust in the New England Patriots foreshadowed a big loss come Super Bowl Sunday. Through the first season of regulated sports betting, the operation was pretty much flat.
Part of that stems from the fact that Rhode Island is a small market and the hometown Patriots are good at covering the spread. But the lack of online betting stifled the sort of action on other teams and leagues needed to balance those losses.
Handle topped out under $25 million in March — barely enough to derive any substantial benefit from the industry even in winning months. As far as sports betting revenue goes, Rhode Island brings up the rear among early-adopting states, with less than $7 million won through June.
Seeing those returns, the legislature promptly rewrote the sports betting law less than a year after its passage.
Mobile sports betting in Rhode Island won’t change the revenue-sharing structure, but it will have a drastic impact on handle, especially while the small market has a regional monopoly. Every other New England state considered a sports betting bill this year, and the new law in New Hampshire represents competition coming soon to the neighborhood.
The new NH sports betting law also includes statewide mobile betting.