Rhode To Redemption? Mobile RI Sports Betting Bill Signed

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RI sports betting

Nearly a year after mobile RI sports betting launched, the state legislature finally righted a major flaw in the law.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo signed SB 2919 and HB 8097 Thursday to allow potential bettors to complete account registrations without going to a casino. The bills overwhelmingly passed in each chamber.

Previously, the registration process included a second step that required bettors to complete the account registration at one of the state’s two Twin River casinos.

Remote registration should be available about one month after Raimondo signed the bill into law. That means bettors should have plenty of time to register Rhode Island sports betting accounts before the start of NFL season.

IGT is “prepared to quickly adapt our IGT PlaySports technology to accommodate mobile registration should it be approved,” Charles Cohen, IGT PlayDigital VP of sports betting, said before the bill was signed.

RI sports betting improves with remote registration

Adding remote registration could lead to thousands of new RI sports betting accounts for the Rhode Island Lottery.

First, there are about 14,000 potential sports bettors that began the registration process on their phone but never finished it at a casino, according to the Department of Revenue.

Only about 45% of all downloads later fully activated. That’s about 30% lower than industry average, according to the DOR.

That’s led to some low betting totals. Since its launch in September 2019, just $46.2 million has been bet online in Rhode Island with $3.5 million in revenue.

Second, potential bettors from Massachusetts will only have to cross into the state to create an account, potentially stealing some thunder from neighboring New Hampshire. Both Twin River casinos sit about an hour from downtown Boston.

Why approve remote registration now?

Rhode Island clearly saw that bettors weren’t motivated to visit casinos and finish the account signup process. Giving customers what they want is clearly a big reason.

“Like any new product, player feedback is important,” said Rhode Island Lottery Spokesman Paul Grimaldi. “We’ve worked with our partners to improve the sports betting experience since it launched. The evolution of player registration to a fully remote process mobile is part of that effort as we work to provide the best possible player experience.”

But there’s another story at play: the coronavirus pandemic. Authorizing remote registration was seen as a way to minimize passage of the coronavirus as well, Grimaldi added.

Some showed concern over legalization

While the bills had overwhelming support, they were unanimously praised through the process.

House Minority Leader Rep. Blake Filippi is concerned about going against the original understanding that the state constitution required on-site registration. But legal counsel recently confirmed only the bet needs to be made on-site, which is satisfied with a server at the casino.

Filippi is concerned it could show weakness in the state’s sports betting laws, which will likely be challenged in the state’s Supreme Court.

Sen. Samuel Bell also thought the change could be seen as an expansion of gambling. That requires voter approval through a referendum.

Not many states with in-person requirements

With Rhode Island leaving the party, there are only three states that now require in-person registration.

Two of those states, Illinois and Iowa, have end dates. Iowa’s requirement ends at the end of this year. Illinois’ requirement expires once the first $20 million online-only license is approved, though it’s currently suspended.

Nevada remains the only state to require in-person registration permanently.