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Rhode Island May Allow Mobile Sports Betting

The President of the Rhode Island Senate has submitted legislation to allow mobile sports wagering through the Twin River casinos in Lincoln and Tiverton.

The bill enables the creation of an app which sports bettors can use to access the casino sports betting facilities from anywhere within the state.

As in Nevada, sports bettors must set up their mobile accounts in person at the casinos.

President Ruggerio explained:

“The new in-person sportsbook that opened in November has been very popular, with lines 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. I can envision a group of friends from out-of-state spending an evening out in a local establishment where they can both watch the game and place a wager.”

A positive move but maybe too cautious

The restriction to in-person sign-ups follows the Nevada model, but the Nevada Gaming Control Board is already considering whether to change it.

The experience of online sports betting in New Jersey suggests that allowing players to sign up online does not add any extra risk. On the basis of this evidence, MGM and Caesars have petitioned the NGCB to relax its restrictions and allow online sign-ups.

The requirement to visit the casinos to create an account likely means a lower take-up of the new offer. That means less tax revenues for the state which takes 51% of all sports betting revenues.

Ruggiero said:

“It is estimated that 97 percent of sports betting takes place illegally. This is an opportunity to give Rhode Islanders and visitors a legal avenue to participate in an activity they enjoy, while providing a very tangible benefit to our state.”

The physical sign up process will leave more sports betting in the black market and place a barrier in front of the legal options.

No referendum necessary

The Rhode Island constitution doesn’t allow gambling outside the physical location of the licensed casinos. The new bill uses a neat trick to get out of holding a referendum to change the constitution.

The servers for the new mobile service will be based on casino premises and the law defines the location of online gambling as taking place on the servers.

Currently sports betting is run by the state lottery in partnership with William Hill and IGT. The new law would give the director of the lottery the authority to:

“enter into contracts for the provision of server-based gaming systems, facilities and related technology necessary and/or desirable for the state-operated online sports wagering.”

Theoretically this would allow multiple online providers. In practise it is more likely that the lottery will give a monopoly deal to its existing partners.

It might not be perfect, but Rhode Islanders will soon be able to enjoy legal, safe online sports betting.

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